Tubal ligation is a permanent form of female contraception. If you have a tubal ligation, you will have surgery in which your fallopian tubes will be clipped, cut and tied or sealed shut. This prevents any eggs from moving from the ovaries along the tube to the uterus, preventing fertilisation and pregnancy.
Also known as laparoscopic sterilisation, tubal ligation is very effective. Fewer than one woman in every hundred who has a tubal ligation will become pregnant later.
What does a tubal ligation involve?
If you have a tubal ligation, you will have a general anaesthetic. The operation is usually done via keyhole surgery known as laparoscopy. It is normally a day procedure, although an overnight stay in hospital is possible.
One or two tiny incisions are made in the lower abdomen and a small camera (laparoscope) is inserted so that the fallopian tubes can be seen. The tubes are then closed off by clips or sealed by heat.
Some women might need another form of operation known as a laparotomy, which involves a larger incision in the abdomen and several days’ stay in hospital.
What are the risks and complications of tubal ligation?
Most women need a few days to recover from the anaesthetic. Some women have pain in their shoulders, and some have minor abdominal discomfort immediately after the operation.
A few women get injuries to the bowel, bladder or blood vessels due to accidental perforation.
There is still a small chance you can get pregnant, even years later. If this does happen, there is an increased risk of the pregnancy being ectopic, or outside the uterus.
Can tubal ligation be reversed?
It is sometimes possible to repair the fallopian tubes after tubal ligation, but only half of women fall pregnant after a reversal. The risk of ectopic pregnancy after a reversal also increases.
So if you’re thinking about a tubal ligation, talk about the risks and benefits with your partner and your doctor. This is meant to be permanent, although it doesn’t stop you having IVF and other forms of assisted reproduction later.
You should have a tubal ligation only if you’re absolutely sure you don’t want any more children, and not regret the decision later.
What are the alternatives to tubal ligation?
There are many alternatives to permanent female sterilisation, including:
- permanent male sterilisation – vasectomy
- long-acting reversible contraception such as intrauterine devices and contraceptive implants in the skin of the arm
- short-acting reversible types of contraception – birth control pills, patches or vaginal rings, condoms, the diaphragm, a cervical cap or regular contraceptive injections
- permanent tubal occlusion (Essure®) – recovery is usually quicker than after tubal ligation, but the Essure® method is permanent and can’t be reversed.
For more information
Visit Pregnancy, Birth and Baby website for more information about contraception.
Last reviewed: June 2016