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Sexual and Reproductive Health

Birth control implant

What is the birth control implant?​

The birth control implant is a thin, plastic rod about 4 cm (1.5 inches) long. It goes just under the skin of the upper arm. It slowly releases progestin, a hormone like progesterone that the body makes, to stop the ovaries from releasing an egg. Pregnancy can't happen if no egg is released. The implant also thickens the mucous in the cervix, so it's harder for sperm to pass through. The implant doesn't contain estrogen.

How well does the implant work?

  • The implant is 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy.
  • The implant can help prevent pregnancy for up to 3 years.
  • The implant doesn't protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.

How do I start using the implant?

You need a prescription for the implant from your healthcare provider. They will numb the skin on the upper arm then put the implant in just under the skin, using a special device. This takes a few minutes. A bandage will go over the area and it should be kept clean and dry for at least 24 hours.

Most implants can't be seen but can be felt under the skin. You will be shown how to feel it.

When does the implant start working?

The implant works right away if it's inserted within the first 5 days of your period. If it's inserted on any other day, use an extra method of birth control (like condoms) or don't have vaginal sex for 7 days.

What are the benefits of the implant?

  • If it is used for 3 years, it costs less than other birth control methods (like the pill, patch, or ring).
  • It may make period cramps less painful.
  • It can be used if you can't use birth control with estrogen.
  • It can be used while breastfeeding.
  • It can be removed by a healthcare provider at any time, for any reason. You can get pregnant as soon as you have your implant removed.

How will the implant affect my period?

Most people will experience changes to their period. These changes are not harmful and don't affect how well the implant works:

  • It's common to have increased spotting and bleeding in the first 3 months, which often improves by 6 months. After 6 months, spotting and bleeding will likely not improve.
  • More than half of people have a period less often or will stop having their period.
  • About a quarter of people with the implant will have periods more often, longer periods, or both.
  • About 15% of people have the implant removed due to changes in bleeding.

What are the side effects of the implant?

Talk to your healthcare provider if you're concerned about side effects from the implant. They may include:

  • headache
  • weight gain
  • acne
  • tender breasts
  • changes in mood
  • abdominal (tummy) pain

What are the disadvantages of the implant?

  • Some people have bruising and swelling around the implant. This is common in the first 24 hours.
  • The implant area could get infected.
  • The implant could move from where it was inserted or get bent or broken. If this happens, a specially trained healthcare provider might need to take it out.
  • The implant may be hard to take out. If this happens, your healthcare provider may take longer to take it out, or refer you to a specially trained healthcare provider to remove it.

It is rare to get pregnant while using an implant. If pregnancy occurs, there is a higher risk of a pregnancy outside the uterus (ectopic pregnancy).

I'm thinking of getting an implant. What do I need to tell my healthcare provider?

Tell your healthcare provider if you:

  • are pregnant or think you might be
  • have or had breast cancer
  • are allergic to any medications
  • are taking medications
  • don't get your period
  • have irregular vaginal bleeding
  • have growths in your liver or liver disease
  • have any health conditions, including lupus
  • are switching from a different birth control method (like the pill, ring, or patch)

If I have an implant, when do I need to contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • you notice redness, warmth, increased pain, or fluid leaking from where the implant was inserted
  • you develop a fever or new itchy rash within 1 week of getting the implant
  • you think you're pregnant
  • the implant can't be felt under your skin, as you might not be protected from pregnancy. Use an extra method of birth control (like condoms) or don't have vaginal sex until you can see your healthcare provider.
  • you want to have the implant removed

What else is important to know about consent, sexual activity, and birth control?

  • You have the right to decide to have sex or not. Talk with your partner or partners about consent.
  • There's an 85% chance of becoming pregnant within one year, if no birth control is used for vaginal sex.
  • Use a condom every time you have sex (oral, vaginal, anal). Condoms help prevent pregnancy, STIs, and HIV.
  • You can lower your risk of HIV by taking an HIV prevention pill every day. Many Albertans can get it for free. Visit HIV PrEP to find out more.
  • Transgender and gender diverse people who have a uterus can use hormonal birth control. It can help prevent pregnancy and make periods lighter and less painful.

Where can I find more information?

If you have questions, need to find a sexual health clinic near you, or want more information, call Health Link at 811 anytime, day or night, to talk to a registered nurse.

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