The contraceptive implant is one method to help prevent an unplanned pregnancy.
The contraceptive implant is a small flexible tube about 40mm long that's inserted under the skin of your upper arm. At 3fivetwo our experienced GPs can perform this quick and simple procedure. Once inserted the implant offers contraceptive cover for around three years.
The implant stops the release of an egg from the ovary by slowly releasing progestogen into your body. Progestogen thickens the cervical mucus and thins the womb lining. This makes it harder for sperm to move through your cervix, and less likely for your womb to accept a fertilised egg.
The continuous release of progestogen:
- stops a woman releasing an egg every month (ovulation)
- thickens the mucus from the cervix (entrance to the womb), making it difficult for sperm to pass through to the womb and reach an unfertilised egg
- makes the lining of the womb thinner so that it is unable to support a fertilised egg
What you need to know
- If implanted correctly, the implant is more than 99% effective. Fewer than one woman in 1,000 who use the implant as contraception will get pregnant in one year.
- It's very useful for women who know they don't want to get pregnant for a while. Once the implant is in place, you don't have to think about contraception for three years.
- It can be useful for women who can't use contraception that contains oestrogen.
- It's very useful for women who find it difficult to take a pill at the same time every day.
- If you have side effects, the implant can be taken out. You can have the implant removed at any time, and your natural fertility will return very quickly.
- When it's first put in, you may feel some bruising, tenderness or swelling around the implant.
- In the first year after the implant is fitted, your periods may become irregular, lighter, heavier or longer. This usually settles down after the first year.
- A common side effect of the implant is that your periods stop (amenorrhoea). It's not harmful, but you may want to consider this before deciding to have an implant.
- Some medications can make the implant less effective, and additional contraceptive precautions need to be followed when you are taking these medications.
- The implant does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By using condoms as well as the implant, you'll help to protect yourself against STIs.
How long does it take for the implant to work?
If the implant is fitted during the first five days of your menstrual cycle, you will be immediately protected against becoming pregnant. If it is fitted on any other day of your menstrual cycle, you will not be protected against pregnancy for up to seven days, and should use another method, such as condoms.
How long does it take for the implant to work after giving birth?
The contraceptive implant can be fitted after you have given birth, usually after three weeks.
- If it is fitted on or before day 21 after the birth, you will be immediately protected against becoming pregnant.
- If it is fitted after day 21, you will need to use additional contraception, such as condoms, for the following seven days.
It is safe to use the implant while you are breastfeeding.
Can the implant be used after miscarriage or abortion?
The implant can be fitted immediately after a miscarriage or an abortion, and you will be protected against pregnancy straight away.
Who can use the implant?
Most women can be fitted with the contraceptive implant. It may not be suitable if you:
- think you might be pregnant
- want to keep having regular periods
- have bleeding in between periods or after sex
- have arterial disease or a history of heart disease or stroke
- have a blood clot in a blood vessel (thrombosis)
- have liver disease
- have migraines
- have breast cancer or have had it in the past
- have diabetes with complications
- have cirrhosis or liver tumours
- are at risk of osteoporosis
Advantages and disadvantages of the implant
The main advantages of the contraceptive implant are:
- it works for three years
- the implant does not interrupt sex
- it is an option if you cannot use oestrogen-based contraception, such as the combined contraceptive pill, contraceptive patch or vaginal ring
- you do not have to remember to take a pill every day
- the implant is safe to use while you are breastfeeding
- your fertility should return to normal as soon as the implant is removed
- implants offer some protection against pelvic inflammatory disease (the mucus from the cervix may stop bacteria entering the womb) and may also give some protection against cancer of the womb
- the implant may reduce heavy periods or painful periods after the first year of use
- after the contraceptive implant has been inserted, you should be able to carry out normal activities
Using a contraceptive implant may have some disadvantages, which you should consider carefully before deciding on the right method of contraception for you. These include:
- Disrupted periods
Your periods may change significantly while using a contraceptive implant. Around 20% of women using the implant will have no bleeding, and almost 50% will have infrequent or prolonged bleeding. Bleeding patterns are likely to remain irregular, although they may settle down after the first year.
Although these changes are not harmful, they may not be acceptable for some women. Your GP may be able to help by providing additional medication if you have prolonged bleeding.
Other side effects that some women report are:
- breast tenderness
- changes in mood
- loss of sex drive
These side effects usually stop after the first few months. If you have prolonged or severe headaches or other side effects, please contact your GP at 3fivetwo.