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Contraceptive implant

The contraceptive implant is a small, flexible plastic rod that is placed just under the skin in the upper arm. It releases the hormone progestogen to control your fertility.

Here are some key facts:

  • It protects against pregnancy but not sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To protect against STIs you will also need to use a barrier method of contraception such as condoms
  • The contraceptive implant is over 99% effective
  • The contraceptive implant releases a progestogen hormone which is similar to the natural progesterone that women produce in their ovaries
  • It works for up to three years
  • The contraceptive implant is a long acting reversible contraception (or LARC) method. LARC methods don’t rely on you remembering to take them, but they do need a trained doctor or nurse to administer or fit them for you
  • The contraceptive implant is about 40mm long (about the size of a matchstick or hair pin), and is put under the skin in your upper arm by a specially trained health professional (doctor or nurse)  
  • Once it is put in, it protects against pregnancy for three years, or until you have it taken out

This page should tell you everything you need to know about the contraceptive implant but if you have more questions, you can get in touch with Ask Brook via webchat or text on 07717 989 023 (standard SMS  rates). Contacting Ask Brook is confidential. That means we won’t tell anyone you’ve contacted us unless we think you are in really serious danger.

How does the contraceptive implant work?

Pregnancy happens when sperm reaches an egg and fertilises it. The contraceptive implant works by stopping ovulation, thickening the mucus around the cervix, which makes it harder for sperm to get through, and making the lining of the womb thinner so that a fertilised egg is less likely implant.

The contraceptive implant is about 40mm long (about the size of a matchstick or hair pin), and is put under the skin in your upper arm by a specially trained health professional (doctor or nurse). Once it is put in, it protects against pregnancy for three years, or until you have it taken out.

Although the contraceptive implant protects against pregnancy, it doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To be protected against STIs, barrier methods such as condoms should be used in addition to the contraceptive implant.

The contraceptive implant is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that less than one woman in 100 will get pregnant in a year.

How do I get the contraceptive implant?

The contraceptive implant needs to be fitted by a doctor or nurse who has been specially trained. It is available free of charge from:

You can find your nearest Brook service by clicking here or if there is no Brook service near you, search sexual health services on NHS Choices here or SXT.

When you go to get the contraceptive implant, you will be asked a few questions about your medical and family history. This is to work out if the contraceptive implant is most suitable for you, or if another form of contraception would be more suitable. You will also need to let the doctor or nurse know about any other medicines you are taking as this can make the contraceptive implant less effective. The doctor or nurse will take your blood pressure and they may weigh you. You will not be required to have an internal or breast examination for the contraceptive implant. If you decide to go ahead with the contraceptive implant the nurse or doctor will decide with you when would be the most suitable time to have it fitted. Some services may be able to do the fit at the same appointment as the initial consultation, or you may need a second appointment.

After the contraceptive implant has been fitted you only need to go back if you have any problems or when the contraceptive implant needs to be replaced (up to three years). You can always return to the clinic at any time if you are worried about anything or would like to discuss changing to a different method contraception.  

Contraception and sexual health services such as Brook are free and confidential, including for people under the age of 16. Health professionals work to strict guidelines and won’t tell anyone else about your visit unless they believe you're at serious risk of immediate harm. Find out more about Brook’s confidentiality policy here.

How is the contraceptive implant fitted?

The contraceptive implant is placed just under the skin, in your upper arm. A doctor or nurse will give you a local anaesthetic injection, to numb this part of your arm before they put the contraceptive implant in. It should only take a few minutes, and you won't need any stitches. The area may be slightly tender for a few days, but the doctor or nurse will put a small dressing on, to protect it and help stop any bruising. 

You can have the contraceptive implant fitted at any time in your menstrual cycle if you are certain you are not pregnant. If the contraceptive implant is fitted during the first five days of your period you will be protected from pregnancy immediately. 

If the contraceptive implant is fitted on any other day of your menstrual cycle, you need to use a barrier method of contraception (such as condoms) for the first seven days. You may also be required to take a pregnancy test after the contraceptive implant has been fitted. Your nurse or doctor will advise.
 
Once your arm has healed you will be able to do normal activities as it should not break or move around in your arm. You also won’t be able to see it.

Nexplanon is the main contraceptive implant currently in use in the UK.

How is the contraceptive implant taken out?

The contraceptive implant can be left in place for up to three years, or you can have it taken out sooner by a specially trained doctor or nurse if you decide you want to stop using it.

To take out the contraceptive implant the doctor or nurse will give you a local anaesthetic and will make a small cut in your skin and gently pull the contraceptive implant out. You will then have a dressing put on your arm which you should keep on for a few days to reduce bruising and to keep it clean and dry.

If you want to continue using the contraceptive implant, the new contraceptive implant can be put in at the same time and you will still be protected from pregnancy.

Advantages of the contraceptive implant

  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It’s not like remembering to take a pill every day – the contraceptive implant works for up to three years
  • It is an option for people who can’t use oestrogen based contraception (such as the combined pill, contraceptive patch, or the vaginal ring)
  • There is no evidence that it causes additional weight gain
  • There are no long term effects to your fertility (fertility returns to normal as soon as it is removed)
  • It can be taken by some women who cannot use the contraception that contains oestrogen
  • The contraceptive implant is not affected by diarrhoea or vomiting
  • It can help reduce heavy periods and reduce period pain

Disadvantages of the contraceptive implant

  • It’s common to experience temporary side effects during the first few months, like headaches, nausea, breast tenderness and mood swings
  • Bleeding patterns may be irregular or stop altogether
  • It can cause or worsen acne
  • It doesn’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so you will need to use a barrier method such as condoms

What can make the contraceptive implant less effective?

  • The contraceptive implant must be replaced every three years and must be replaced at the right time, otherwise you will not be protected from pregnancy
  • Some medicines can reduce the effectiveness of the contraceptive implant, such as those used to treat epilepsy, HIV and TB and the complementary medicine St John's Wort. Commonly used antibiotics do not reduce the effectiveness of the contraceptive implant, but it is always best to check with the doctor, nurse or pharmacist first
  • If at any time you cannot feel your contraceptive implant or it appears to have changed shape, or you notice any skin changes or pain around the site of the contraceptive implant, then visit a doctor or nurse at your nearest Brook service, sexual health clinic/GP, and use condoms until you know that your contraception is definitely protecting you again

How will it affect my periods?

The implant may cause an irregular bleeding pattern, and your periods may be irregular, longer or they may stop all together. This usually settles down after the first year of using the contraceptive implant. 

However it is also important to check that the bleeding is not due to any other cause. It is recommended that you discuss any concerns that you may have regarding the changes to your bleeding pattern with your nurse or doctor. It might be possible to give some additional medication that can help with the bleeding. 

Using the contraceptive implant after having a baby

You can have the contraceptive implant fitted three weeks (21 days) after giving birth. If the contraceptive implant is put in on or before day 21 you will be protected against pregnancy straight away. If the contraceptive implant is put in later than day 21 you will need to use an additional method of contraception for seven days.

The contraceptive implant does not affect your milk supply and can be used safely while breastfeeding.

Using the contraceptive implant after having an abortion or miscarriage

You can have the contraceptive implant fitted immediately after a miscarriage or abortion and you will be protected from pregnancy straight away.

Page last reviewed: June 2015
Next review due: June 2016