Implant for Birth Control: 7 Things an Ob/Gyn Wants You to Know

This long-acting reversible birth control is one of the most effective methods of preventing pregnancy.

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Sick of the hassle of taking the Pill every day? Oral contraceptives are a popular choice for birth control, but the need to take it every day might lead you to try a more long-term solution.

Cue: the implant.

“The implant is a small rod, about the size of a matchstick, that a doctor implants in your upper arm to prevent pregnancy,” says ob/gyn and maternal fetal medicine specialist Kecia Gaither, MD.

Yeah, it sounds crazy that something in your arm could keep any eggs from shacking up in your uterus, but it works. The implant is 99 percent effective. (Just remember that it won’t protect against STDs, which only condoms can do.)

Here’s what you should know about getting an implant, according to Dr. Gaither.

  1. You can get it and forget it. The implant is what doctor’s call a “long-acting reversible contraceptive method,” so it needs no extra attention once a doctor has inserted it in your arm. It lasts around three years, and there’s nothing to “mess up” or forget.

  2. It’s not an IUD. Sure, there are many similarities between the implant and the hormonal IUD. For example, they both use a form of progestin to thicken cervical mucus and thin the lining of the uterus, which make it hard for sperm to enter the uterus and keep eggs from attaching to the uterine wall. However, implants go in the upper arm and IUDs sit in the uterus. (Here are more details about the IUD.)

  3. Your fertility won’t be negatively affected. As soon as a doctor removes the implant (which you can do before the three years are up), you’ll be fertile again.

  4. The implant may improve or hijack your period. The implant, as with other hormonal forms of birth control, can soothe period cramps. It also may make your period lighter or even make it go away altogether, due to a thinner uterine lining. About 22 percent of women with the implant lose their periods, according to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.

  5. Getting the implant requires a minor procedure. When you get and remove your implant, you’ll need to see a trained professional. Your doctor will give you a shot to numb the area, and then slide in the implant under your skin using a special tool.  Most people describe this as just a pinch or stinging. It only takes about 15 minutes, and you may be left with minor swelling or bruising in the arm for a day or two.

  6. You can feel the implant in your arm. Your boss or your nosy neighbor won’t be able to see your implant, but you’ll be able to feel it. (In fact, this is how doctors find it when it’s time to remove the implant.) Your doc will usually put it in your non-dominant arm.

  7. Expect bleeding. The most common side effect of the implant is irregular bleeding, or “spotting.” This usually happens in the first six to twelve months. Other side effects include headaches, nausea, weight gain, and ovarian cysts, as well as the pain and bruising near the implant site.

Keep forgetting your pills but not ready to commit to an implant or IUD? Here’s what to do if you miss a birth control pill.