Interested in a Birth Control Implant?

Overview

Woman discusses birth control with her doctor.
Woman discusses birth control with her doctor.

If your goal is to avoid pregnancy, a birth control implant might be one of your most dependable and long-lasting options. It’s dependable because once it’s in, you don’t have to think about it -- unlike needing to remember to take the pill every day. But you will need to make an appointment for a short procedure to insert the tiny flexible rod in your upper arm. It’s long-lasting because it releases a hormone that prevents pregnancy for up to three years.

Here’s information you need to help you decide whether this is an option for you or not.

How Does a Birth Control Implant Work?

The implant is matchstick-thin and less than two inches long. It guards against pregnancy in several ways.

The progestin hormone that the implant releases prevents your body from releasing an egg (also called ovulating). Without an egg for sperm to fertilize, you can’t get pregnant. Progestin also thickens the mucus in the cervix -- the narrow lower end of the uterus -- which keeps sperm from swimming through. And it thins the lining of the uterus, another change that discourages pregnancy.

When you have an implant, your chance of getting pregnant is less than 1% each year. But that’s just temporary. Once you have the implant removed and you have your period -- which shows you’re ovulating again -- you can start trying to have a child.

How Is It Implanted?

You can get an implant at any time during the month. You can also get one after a miscarriage or after giving birth, even if you’re still breastfeeding.

The procedure usually takes a minute or so with some prep time before. For instance, your doctor might ask you to take a pregnancy test before the procedure to make sure you’re not already pregnant.

Once you’re lying on the exam table, you’ll bend your arm at the elbow. The doctor will then give you a shot to numb your upper arm.

Next, the provider will insert the implant just under the skin’s surface. Once it is in place, you will be able to feel the implant with your fingers, but you won’t be able to see it.

What Are the Side Effects?

After it’s inserted, you might notice some temporary bruising or discomfort around the implant. There are some common side effects, such as changes in menstruation patterns, headaches, mood swings, and weight gain. In terms of your cycles, you might experience irregular bleeding. But it tends to be on the lighter side. Irregular bleeding typically improves within a year. Even better, your periods might stop completely, which is perfectly safe.

Be sure to get in touch with your doctor if you experience:

When Does It Take Effect?

If you get the implant during the first five days of your period, it will prevent pregnancy right away. If you get it at any other time of the month, you should use backup birth control, like condoms, for the first week.

Implants don’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases. To be safe, unless you are certain neither you nor your partner is having sex with anyone else, your partner should use a condom.

How Do You Remove the Implant?

Once you’re ready to have the implant removed, you’ll need to go back to the doctor for another short procedure. The doctor will numb your upper arm before making a small cut in the skin. Then he will pull the implant out through the small cut. You can expect to start ovulating again within the next month.

Is the Implant Right for You?

The implant isn’t the best choice for everyone. Your doctor might advise against it if you’ve had one of these medical issues:

The implant might not be fully effective if you:

  • Are significantly overweight. (That’s about 175 pounds for a five-foot-four-inch woman.)
  • Take prescription medications or herbal supplements that can lower progestin levels in your blood. Examples might be anti-seizure medications, some HIV drugs, and St. John’s wort.

Talk to your doctor about your medications, health conditions, and any other concerns you have before you decide.

References
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American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Long-Acting Reversible Contraception: Implants and Intrauterine Devices.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Frequently Asked Questions: Long-Acting Reversible Contraception: Intrauterine Device and Implant.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Adult BMI Calculator.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Birth Control Options.”

Food and Drug Administration: “Types of Medicines and Devices for Birth Control.”

Mayo Clinic: “Contraceptive implant: Overview.”

National Cancer Institute Dictionary of Cancer Terms: "Cervix."