WHAT IS THE BIRTH CONTROL IMPLANT/ROD?
What is the birth control Implant or Rod?
This form of birth control is the MOST EFFECTIVE ONE of them all!! It’s 99.95% effective, more so than tying your tubes with surgery for permanent birth control!!
Along with the IUD (Intra-Uterine Device), the Implant is one of the LARC methods (Long-Acting Reversible Contraception), aka “Set it and Forget it” methods. You have to get it put in and taken out by your doctor, but it can be done easily in an office appointment.
Once it’s in, you don’t have to do anything or think about it. It’s good for up to 4 years, but you can take it out sooner, anytime you want. Once it’s out, you can get pregnant right away. It does not affect your fertility at all.
It contains only progesterone (click here to learn more about estrogen vs. estrogen-free birth controls; generally, estrogen-free methods can be used for a wider range of women), a type called “Etonorgestrel.” It’s a small plastic rod, about the size of a toothpick or matchstick. The brand names are “Implanon” and “Nexplanon.”
It goes just under the skin of your arm (you can choose which one, but doctors usually put it on your non-dominant side. For example, if you are right-handed, you’ll have it put into your left arm).
The insertion process is usually booked for a 30-40 minute appointment, but the actual process is much shorter.
First, your doctor does a pregnancy test to make sure you are not pregnant. (S)he then goes over all the information and explains the risks, benefits, and side effects. Since it delivers a steady amount of hormone, you will no longer ovulate (ovaries release an egg every month) or have real periods. You will have irregular bleeding/spotting.
Some women are very bothered by this and others don’t mind. Also, every body reacts differently, so it’s worth trying. You may not have bleeding at all! Usually as your body gets used to it, you will have bleeding, but it does not mean you will bleed that way the rest of the 4 years. I recommend all women give it a good 3-6 months, ideally a whole year, for the bleeding pattern to stabilize.
Other side effects may include headaches, nausea, mood changes, bloating, and breast tenderness. These tend to get better as your body gets used to it as well. It’s not linked to weight gain!
Next, your doctor will ask you to lie down and rest your arm out to the side by your head, in an L-shape. (S)he may ask you to make a muscle so (s)he can feel for a good spot to put in the Implant. It can cause gnarly-looking bruising, but it should not hurt much at all since doctors use numbing medicine. After the first few days to a week max, it should not cause you pain or interfere with exercise or your other activities.
Your doctor will then set everything up, and clean off your skin with soap. LET HIM/HER KNOW IF YOU HAVE ANY SHELLFISH/SEAFOOD ALLERGIES!! This would change the kind of soap (s)he uses. (S)he may use a ruler and marking pen.
Then comes the numbing medicine. It unfortunately needs to numb up the tissue under the skin, so it can’t just be something rubbed onto the skin. Your doctor will use a very small needle to inject the medicine. It will feel like a bee sting, like a pinch and then a burn. (S)he will then test to make sure you are numb, before continuing.
The birth control Implant/Rod comes with its own special device to put it in. It’s a hollow needle with the device inside, and then the needle retracts/is pulled back. I personally hate needles, so I never watch when I’m the patient. I have tried this method myself, so I can vouch there are no other hidden surprises to the process!
After it’s put in under your skin, your doctor will usually ask you to feel your arm with a finger, so you’ll know what it feels like and can keep track of it. There are very rare cases of the Implant moving to a different spot in the arm, but this is very, very unlikely. If it does move, your doctor can track it since it’s made of a material that shows up in an X-ray. It also still works just fine as birth control if it’s moved. Also, you would need a doctor’s visit to remove it anyway if it did not move at all, so it does not change the process too much.
Your doctor will then use bandages and wrap your arm in a few layers of bandages as a pressure dressing, to decrease the amount of bruising. It’s recommended to keep this on for 24-48 hours. After that, you can shower and do all your other activities. Try not to scrub the area of your arm; you should let the water run down and then pat dry.
Like all other hormonal birth control methods, you need to wait at least 7 days for it to take effect. You are not protected from pregnancy until after 7 days of using this! So use backup methods such as condoms, abstinence, or even overlapping with a previous hormonal birth control is fine, such as the Pill, Patch, Ring, or Shot.
The process of having the Implant taken out is similar. The same prepwork is done, and your arm is numbed up using the numbing medicine. Then your doctor will make a small cut with a scalpel and use tweezer-like instruments to remove the Implant. Sometimes your body has formed scar tissue over the Implant, so removing it usually takes a bit longer than it did putting it in. I didn’t have any issues with my experience. I again chose not to look. (I’m a huge baby when it comes to needles! How did I make it as a doctor?!)
For troubleshooting, as mentioned before, you will get irregular bleeding/spotting, which can be annoying and unpredictable. This is not a reason to just give up on this the Implant though! You can discuss with your doctor if it would be an option to “add back estrogen” by using another birth control, to stabilize your bleeding pattern and give you more predictable monthly bleeding “periods.”
If it’s been over 4 years, the hormone will have run out, so you will no longer be protected from pregnancy. Use another method and speak with your doctor to have it taken out! (While it’s not dangerous to have a plastic foreign body in your body, it’s better to take it out rather than keep it in. Also, the longer it’s been in, the more scar tissue there could be, which would make the removal more difficult.) You can get a new Implant put in at the same time as your old one gets taken out, if you like it and want to continue using this method!
If you happen to get pregnant on it (0.05% chance) or were pregnant when you got it put in, but it wasn’t showing up on a pregnancy test because it was too early, you can get it taken out at any time. Studies have not found it to be harmful to the baby.
That’s it for the birth control Implant/Rod! As always, feel free to message me with any questions or concerns!