The contraceptive implant – Everything you need to know

The implant might look small, but certainly packs a punch when it comes to protection

The contraceptive implant (Nexplanon), also known as ‘the implant’, is a tiny plastic rod jam-packed full of hormones, which works around the clock to prevent any unwanted pregnancies. This contraceptive is often a firm favorite for busy females that just don’t have the time to or the memory be taking a pill every single day.

What is the contraceptive implant?

The contraceptive implant is a long-term form of contraception. The contraceptive is made from a small soft flexible rod, which contains ethylene vinylacetate copolymer (plastic) and is placed under the skin in your upper arm. Conveniently for users, once in place; they do not need to worry about it for 3 years.

How effective is the implant?

Although the implant may be 99% effective, unfortunately it won’t protect you against STI’s.

How does the contraceptive implant work?

The birth control implant releases the hormone progestogen gradually into your bloodstream, which prevents pregnancy in three ways – stopping ovulation, making the fluid in your cervix thicker (which makes it more difficult for sperm to enter the womb), and preventing the lining of your womb thickening enough for an embryo to grow in it – how clever.

How do I get the contraceptive implant fitted?

During your appointment, your doctor or nurse will do some tests to make sure that you are able to have the implant (Nexplanon). They check your medical history, make sure that you’re not pregnant and take your blood pressure.

It’s helpful to know that you can have the implant fitted at any time in your period cycle. If it’s fitted within the first five days of your cycle, you will be protected from pregnancy straight away. Any other time in your cycle and you’ll need to use condoms or other contraception for seven days. You can have the implant fitted straight away after giving birth, or after having an abortion or miscarriage.

Your doctor or nurse will get you to lie down and inject you with a local anesthetic to numb the part of your upper arm where the implant will be inserted. They use a pencil-like applicator to put it in your arm. If the thought of that is making you cringe– rest assured that it feels very similar to having an injection and you won’t need any stitches (which is always positive).

The doctor or nurse will then check your arm to make sure that the implant is in place. You’ll be shown how to feel the implant with your fingers so you can check this too. They will put a dressing on it to keep it clean and dry – ensure this is kept on for a few days and try not to knock your arm. The area may be tender for a day or two and may be bruised and slightly swollen.

When first inserted, you may feel some bruising, tenderness or swelling around the implant. Your periods may become irregular, lighter, heavier or longer. 57% of Lowdown users stated that it made their periods irregular. A common side effect is that your periods may stop; this has no long term effects, but something you may want to consider this before getting the implant.
Graph showing 57% of Lowdown users reported irregular periods whilst using the Contraceptive Implant

Contraceptive implant removal

The Implant lasts for three years and must be removed and replaced after three years to continue providing protection from pregnancy. You will need to go back to your doctor or nurse to get the implant removed – the procedure is fairly simple and only takes a few minutes. If you decide you want another device to be inserted, this can be done immediately after the original one is removed. However if you chose not to replace the implant, you will not be protected from pregnancy anymore, so if you’re not looking to get pregnant, you’ll need to be prepared with another form of contraception.

They will inject you with a local anesthetic, then make a tiny cut in your skin and gently pull the implant out. They will put a dressing on the arm to keep it clean and dry and to help reduce any bruising. Check out our survey results to see how long it took most women’s cycles to return to ‘normal’ after having the implant removed, and read about other effects they’ve experienced.

Pros and cons of the contraceptive implant

Pros

  • Effective for 3 years
  • Doesn’t interrupt sex
  • Is an option if you can’t use oestrogen-based contraception’s, such as the combined pill, contraceptive patch or vaginal ring
  • It’s safe to use while you’re breastfeeding
  • May reduce heavy periods or painful periods

Cons

  • Can be affected by some medicines and antibiotics (rifampicin and rifabutin, St Jon’s wort and anti-epilepsy drugs)
  • Occasionally, the implant is difficult to feel under the skin and may make it more difficult to remove
  • Like with any combined type of hormonal contraception, there is a slightly increased risk of developing blood clots in your veins and arteries
  • Acne is an implant side effect
  • You need to have a small procedure to have it fitted or removed
  • Doesn’t protect you from STI’s

Who should use the contraceptive implant?

  • Females that can’t use contraception containing oestrogen
  • Females that find it difficult to remember to take contraception daily
  • Females that want a long-lasting contraceptive

Who shouldn’t use the contraceptive implant?

  • Females that don’t want their periods to change
  • Females that take other medicines that may affect the implant
  • Females that have arterial disease or a history of heart disease or stroke
  • Females that have or have had breast cancer

Where can I get the implant?

In the UK you can get the birth control implant for free (even if you’re under 16) from contraception clinks, GP’s surgeries, sexual health clinics and some young people’s services. Some (but not all) GP’s or practice nurses are able to fit and remove implants, but be sure to check with your GP surgery.

Most sexual health clinics will also be able to do this for you, click to find your nearest one.

This guide was brought to you by The Lowdown. We are the world’s first contraception review platform, providing real-life experiences from thousands of reviews collected from our community of men and women.

Why not leave us a review of your contraceptive experience? Whether you’ve got good things to say about the Mirena coil or had trouble with implant removal, we want to hear about it! Tell us about your experience and help people around the world find the right method for them.