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The contraceptive implant

The contraceptive implant (also called the birth control implant or hormonal implant) is a small rod that goes under the skin in a woman’s arm. It is very effective at preventing pregnancy. 

It lasts for three, four or five years, depending on which type you get. Once it’s fitted you don’t need to do anything else to prevent pregnancy. But you do need to remember to replace it or switch birth control methods after the time period for yours is up.

The implant does not protect against HIV or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To do this, you need to use condoms as well.  

What is a contraceptive implant?

It’s a small, flexible plastic rod. Some implants require one rod, others require two.

A healthcare professional will insert it under the skin of your upper arm (it can go in either arm). They will apply a local anaesthetic (a medication that numbs the skin) to your arm, then use a device that feels like an injection to put the implant in.  

It will take a few minutes and most people don’t find it painful. You won’t need any stitches after.  

Can anyone get an implant?

The implant only works on females. But this does not mean that getting one is only the female’s responsibility. Contraception is the responsibility of both partners. It is important for men to support their partner to use the contraceptive method that is right for them – it is also a way to show you care.  

Where can I get the implant?

From a healthcare professional, either at a sexual health clinic or your local health facility. You might also be able to get it from a community-based programme. For example, some youth-clubs work with youth-friendly nurses to provide sexual health services. 

How does the implant work?

It steadily releases one or more hormones to prevent pregnancy. Different types of the implant contain different hormones. Some work to stop an egg being released each month. Others work to change your cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to reach an egg.

You can get an implant at any time as long as you're not pregnant. 

If you have it fitted during the first five-to-seven days of your menstrual cycle, you'll immediately be able to prevent pregnancy. If you have it after that, you should use condoms for seven days.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the contraceptive implant?

Advantages 

  • you will not have to think about birth control for three, four or five years 

  • you are in control of whether you get pregnant or not 

  • it is safe to use and can be removed if you have side effects 

  • you can have it taken out at any time, and your natural fertility will return quickly  

  • it’s safe to use if you’re breastfeeding 

  • you can have it fitted any time after you've given birth. 

Disadvantages 

  • you must remove or replace the arm implant after three, four or five years – if you forget to do this you can get pregnant 

  • it doesn’t protect you or your partner from STIs, including HIV – only condoms prevent pregnancy and STIs 

  • when you first get it, your arm might feel sore or be a bit bruised or swollen 

  • it can affect your periods – they may become more irregular or heavier – it can also make your periods shorter, lighter or stop them altogether! 

  • some medication can make the implant less effective. This includes some HIV treatment and antibiotics used to treat tuberculosis and meningitis. Check with your doctor about having the implant if you're taking any other drugs.  

How often do I need to get an implant?

Every three, four or five years, depending on which type of implant is available in your country. But you should go to your doctor before that if: 

  • it feels like the implant isn’t there anymore or it has changed shape 

  • there are changes to the skin where the implant is or the skin feels painful 

  • you become pregnant. 

What do I do if forget to replace my implant?

You should go to your doctor. You might also consider taking emergency contraception.

You should also use condoms if you continue having sex, at least until you get a new implant or swap to a different birth control method. 

Do I still need to use condoms if I have an implant?

Condoms are the only type of contraceptive that protect you and your partner from HIV and STIs, so it is worth using them even if you have an implant. 

Will having the implant harm my chances of getting pregnant later on?

No. Once the implant is removed, you’ll be able to get pregnant straight away. 

Let's talk about the contraceptive implant!

Here are a few questions to help kick-off discussions on the issues you need to talk about! You can share them on social, on WhatsApp or just get talking.

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Will people be able to see the implant?

No, they won’t. In fact, no one has to know unless you want to tell them. If you press down on your arm where the implant has been put in, you’ll be able to feel it. But that’s the only way you’ll know it’s there. 

Will the implant unbalance my hormones and make me ‘crazy’?

The implant contains hormones, but these are similar to the hormones that the body produces. Some people do experience mood swings, but not everyone will and these should settle down after a while. 

Will the implant make me put on weight?

No, this is not one of the side effects. (This is different from the contraceptive pill or the injection, which can make some people – but not everyone – put on weight.) Some people think the implant leads to weight gain because a lot of people first get one at an age when their body is changing naturally anyway.  

If you have an implant and experiences side effects that you are worried about, talk to your healthcare professional as there are plenty of other birth control methods you can try. 

What advice can I give to someone about the implant?

If someone is thinking about getting an implant, the best thing you can do is give them clear and accurate information, respect their decisions, be open and do not judge. 

They might feel embarrassed about discussing sex with you. If they are, connect them with a friendly healthcare professional, a helpline or factual online resources, like this website. 

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  • Last updated: 16 June 2022
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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