Sexual Health

The contraceptive implant

There are four methods of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) to choose from; contraceptive injection, the contraceptive implant, the intrauterine device (IUD or non hormonal coil) and the intrauterine system (IUS or hormonal coil).  This page is about contraceptive implants. 
LARCs are known as “fit and forget” methods; this means once they are fitted or given, women are protected from getting pregnant until it needs replacing.

“If implanted correctly, it's more than 99% effective. Fewer than one woman in 1,000 who have the implant as contraception for three years will get pregnant.” (NHS Choices)
The contraceptive implant has the lowest failure rate of all methods, this means it is the most reliable, and the fewest women get pregnant whilst using it.
A contraceptive implant is a small, flexible rod (the size of a match stick) that is put in the upper part of the arm and works for up to 3 years. The implant contains progesterone. This stops ovulation (releasing an egg every month), thickens the mucus in the cervix (stopping sperm reaching an egg) and also thins the womb lining.

contraceptive implant

Size of the contraceptive implant

contraceptive implant

 Position of the contraceptive implant

It can be removed at any time if it doesn't suit you, but doctors recommend it is tried for three to six months before making a decision to remove it.

One of the main advantages of implants is that women don't have to worry about remembering to take anything, so they are good method for people who are a bit forgetful. It is important to remember that the LARCs do not offer any protection against sexually transmitted infections. If there is any possibility of infection, condoms should be used as well.
There can be many reasons for a woman to change the type of contraception they use; concerns about the side effects of the pill, wanting to stop using condoms, having trouble remembering to take the pill, concerns about the effectiveness of the pill when sick, irregular or painful periods and bleeding or to reduce the risk of pregnancy. People may also want to change because they have had problems with other methods of contraception.

The implant commonly changes a woman’s bleeding pattern, including stopping periods altogether. The bleeding pattern is not an indication of whether the implant is working – whatever the bleeding pattern they are extremely effective at preventing pregnancy.
Some of the women interviewed chose to use implants as their method of contraception after trying the pill or condoms.

Before changing contraception methods there are leaflets to read about what's available or health professionals to talk to at GP surgeries, Family Planning or Brook clinics. Implants don't suit everyone so it's important to get information to help make the decision.
Women we spoke to had different experiences of contraceptive implants. Women often reported being happy with the implant but some had stopped using it because of health concerns. Some others used implants or injections as contraception after childbirth.

Irregular bleeding is a common side effect of the implant but it doesn't mean it's not working. If this happens it is worth talking to a doctor or nurse for advice. Sometimes taking a contraceptive tablet as well as the implant can settle the bleeding down. Because the implant provides contraception, forgetting to take the pill doesn't result is an increased chance of getting pregnant.
We talked to women who had stopped using LARC and are now using other methods, such as one of the contraceptive pills. Many said that they find it difficult to remember taking it every day. Stefanie reminds herself with an alarm on her mobile and by keeping the pills next to her toothbrush.
Reasons for not using LARCs or stopping using them included: the experiences of relatives or friends, ‘horror’ stories reported by the media, concerns about LARCs' impact on fertility, and the feeling of losing control over their own bodies.

Women we interviewed commented that the amount of information they got from their GPs regarding LARCs was variable and that, often, they were given leaflets to read rather than the time to talk about the different options available to them. In towns and cities, overcrowding, lack of appointments or lengthy waiting times sometimes made it difficult for women to access health services for family planning. Victoria thinks that cities offer more choice of where to go for advice than other, less populated areas.

The young women we talked to advised others to find out as much as possible before deciding which contraception to use. They also reminded people that everyone reacts differently so not to be persuaded by the experiences of family members or friends.

LARCs are over 99% effective against unwanted pregnancies. But, only condoms or not having sex offers protection against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Last reviewed January 2016

Last updated January 2016


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