Contraceptive implant

A contraception implant offers almost 100% protection against pregnancy for up to three years. But what is it? Does it hurt getting it inserted? And what if it goes missing or something? The Mix answers your questions.

Girl holding her upper arm

The contraceptive implant will be placed in your arm.

What is a contraceptive implant?

It’s a tiny flexible tube (about the size of a hairgrip) that’s fitted under the skin between your armpit and your elbow.

It works by slowly releasing the hormone progestogen that stops your ovaries releasing an egg and thickens the cervical mucus making it virtually impossible for sperm to get through. It also thins the lining of your womb, so if a sneaky egg has a rendezvous with Mr Super Sperm the fertilised egg has nothing to hold onto.

Currently, Nexplanon is the brand available in the UK (replacing Implanon). It provides almost 100% protection against pregnancy for up to three years. It won’t protect you against STIs though!

How is an implant fitted, does it hurt?

The good news is it doesn’t involve removing your knickers. Bonus. The bad news is it requires an injection that will sting.

A trained doctor or nurse will give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area on your arm. This is the bit that stings. As soon as that’s worked its magic, they’ll make a small incision and insert the implant using a plastic gadget. Once it’s in position you’re good to go. You won’t even need a stitch, just a plaster.

It may feel a bit bruised at first, but that will disappear after a couple of days.

Can you see it in my arm?

You won’t be able to see it, but as it sits just below the surface of your skin you may be able to feel it. Tempting as it is, it’s important not to fiddle with it.

When does the implant start to work?

If it’s fitted during the first five days of your period you’re protected straight away. If it’s fitted any other time of the month, however, you’ll have to use condoms for at least seven days.

Will it make my periods worse?

Possibly. You could have irregular bleeding, prolonged bleeding, no bleeding at all, or the mother of all periods.

The annoying thing is you won’t know how the implant will affect you until you try it.

Will the implant make me fat, spotty or moody?

When hormones are released into your body there’s always the chance of a few unwelcome side effects. While some women barely notice any change at all, there are others that blimp out, break out in spots or turn into a hormonal psychopath. Hang in there, it won’t last forever and should settle down after a few months.

I have an implant and it’s made my periods go nuts

Your periods may be so erratic it feels like Dr Evil is controlling them with a joystick. But before you go running into the surgery screaming, ‘get this mofo out of me’, doctors recommend you give it at least three months to settle down. If after this time you’re still bleeding like Niagara Falls, you haven’t had a period at all, or you’re one big raging hormonal cyclone, it may be time to discuss getting it removed.

How is it taken out? Will I be left with a scar?

The doctor will first feel the position of the implant then inject the area with a local anaesthetic. Once it’s numb, they’ll make a small incision and gently push the implant through to remove. You may be left with a scar from the incision, but it will be tiny and only visible if you shine a torch on the spot and point to it.

How long before my fertility returns?

Once the implant’s removed your periods and fertility should get back to normal within three months. But unless you’re trying to get pregnant this doesn’t mean you should ditch contraception altogether. “We always say to use another method as soon as the implant is removed because a significant number of women will ovulate immediately,” says Lynn Hearton at FPA.

I’ve heard it can dislodge itself and get lost in my body.

There have been incidences of the implant going AWOL, but these were mostly due to it being placed too deeply into the arm. This issue has been addressed with the new brand, Nexplanon. “The new device has been designed to prevent deep insertion, so unless you fiddle with it all the time it won’t go anywhere,” says Lynn. “However, there’s a special technique to fitting one, so it’s very important you go to someone who knows what they’re doing.”

If, for some reason, it does do a runner it can’t get far as the Nexplanon implant contains a dye that shows up on X-rays.

Can anyone get the implant?

The implant is suitable for most women. However, there are a few reasons that may make it unsuitable, including:

  • If think you might be pregnant
  • You want to keep having regular periods
  • You have bleeding in between periods or after sex

If you have heart, circulatory, or liver diseases

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By Nicola Scott

Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of girl by Shutterstock.