Basic Info & FAQs
The implant (Nexplanon is the brand name; previously Implanon) is a teeny-tiny rod that’s inserted under the skin of your upper arm. It’s so small, in fact, most people can’t see it once it’s inserted—which means it can be your little secret, if you’re so inclined. The implant releases progestin, a hormone that keeps your ovaries from releasing eggs and thickens your cervical mucus—which helps block sperm from getting to the egg in the first place. It prevents pregnancy for up to four years. Not too shabby.
Get it and forget it
If you’re a busy person who doesn’t want to worry about remembering birth control, the implant just may be for you. Once it’s in, it lasts for up to 4 years.
No packages or prescriptions to pick up at the pharmacy, so there’s nothing that could get lost or forgotten.
No one can tell when you have the implant. There’s no tell-tale packaging, and nothing you need to do right before you have sex.
The pregnancy question
You should return to fertility (fancy way of saying you should go back to being able to get pregnant) any time after the implant is removed. So don’t take any chances. If you get it taken out, but you’re not ready for a baby, protect yourself with another method right away.
What does it cost?
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, if you have health insurance, chances are good that you’ll be able to get this method with no out-of-pocket cost.
If you don’t have insurance and you’re not on Medicaid, this method can be pricey up front. Still, the implant can stay in place for up to four years, so it becomes pretty economical over time, averaging about $10 a month if you keep it in for the full four years.
- With Medicaid: Free
- With insurance: Free under most plans
Without insurance: Depending on your income, you may be able to go to a low-cost clinic to get the implant at reduced cost.
The full price of the implant can range from $450 - $848. To see how this translates over time, here’s what it would cost to pay for the implant month-to-month at full price:
Cost per month over one year: $38 - $71
Cost per month over four years: $10 - $18
Payment assistance: Check with your local family planning clinics and find out if they offer free or low-cost implants (many do).
How do I use it?
Once the implant is inserted, it’s as easy to use as, well, doing nothing. That’s right. The implant just sits there, under your skin, offering protection against pregnancy for up to four years.
Here’s how the whole thing goes: You visit a health care provider, they gather all your medical info and give you a physical exam, then they numb a small area of your upper arm with a painkiller and insert the implant under your skin. And you’re done.
If you get the implant during the first five days of your period, lucky you: You’re set with pregnancy protection from that very moment. If you’re outside of those first five days, you’ll need to use a back up method for the following week. (Condoms, internal condoms, diaphragm, sponge, or emergency contraception.)
When it’s time to take the implant out, your provider will numb your arm again, make a tiny cut in your skin, and remove the implant. If you’re interested in continuing to use the implant, they can put another one in at the same time.
The good & the bad
Positive “side effects”? You bet. There are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.
- Doesn’t interrupt the heat of the moment
- Most women have fewer, lighter periods
- You don’t have to worry about remembering to take it every day
- Your birth control is taken care of for up to 4 years
- Safe for smokers and those with hypertension and diabetes
- Can be used while breastfeeding
- Can be used by women who can’t take estrogen
- May improve PMS, depression and symptoms from endometriosis
Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they’re not a problem. And if you do experience side effects, they’ll probably go away. Remember, you’re introducing hormones into your body, so it can take a few months to adjust. Give it time.
The most common complaint:
- Irregular bleeding, especially for the first 6-12 months (This could mean spotting in between periods or having longer, heavier periods. Some women have irregular bleeding the whole time the implant is in. On the other hand, some women get no periods at all, at least for a while. A little unpredictable, but most women seem to do okay. Bottom line: you need to be okay with irregular periods if you are thinking about the implant.)
Less common side effects:
- Change in appetite
- A change in your sex drive
- Ovarian cysts
- Discoloring or scarring on the skin over the implant
- Hair loss
- Pain where the implant was inserted
- Sore breasts
If you have bad side effects that don’t improve after six months, talk with your provider about switching to something that works better for you. Just make sure to stay protected by starting a new method immediately. You’re worth it.
*For a very small number of women there are risks of serious side effects.