What to Expect When You Get the Birth Control Implant Placed
If you’re exploring different types of birth control methods, you might know that finding one you jive with can take some trial and error. As you go, consider looking into the birth control implant, which is often referred to by the brand name Nexplanon. It’s a 1.6-inch plastic rod that’s inserted beneath the skin of your upper arm. It pumps out small amounts of progestin, a hormone that prevents your ovaries from releasing eggs and thickens your cervical mucus so sperm can’t swim to the egg, to prevent pregnancy (99% of the time!) for at least three and up to five years.
Like IUDs, the main perk of Nexplanon is that it’s long-lasting—once it’s in your body, you can kinda forget about it. As great as birth control pills are, you need to remember to take one at the same time every day. It sounds simple enough, but an estimated 50% of people on the pill forget to take it at least once a month, increasing their risk for unintended pregnancies.1 (As someone who failed miserably at taking the pill on a set schedule, I get it. No alarm or pillbox could help me adhere to my medication regimen.)
With Nexplanon, you don’t have to do anything aside from having the device implanted, then getting it removed or replaced when it expires—or sooner if it’s not working for you. Jill Purdie, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and medical director at Pediatrix Medical Group in Atlanta, Georgia, tells SELF that Nexplanon is one of the “the most effective reversible contraception [options] available.” Basically anyone who (1) wants birth control and (2) can tolerate a hormonal option is a good candidate for it, she adds.
As is the case with any drug, there are potential side effects that could occur—we’ll get to those in a bit—but most people do just fine after they have the implant placed. Here’s what to expect from the procedure to determine if you want to give Nexplanon a whirl.
How the birth control implant is placed
The implantation process is quick and only takes a few minutes. Dr. Purdie, who’s been performing the procedure for over 15 years, breaks it down: First, an anesthetic will be used to numb the area of your arm where the device will go—which, by the way, is typically the inside of your non-dominant upper arm. Then it’s straight to insertion. The implant will already be preloaded into an insertion device, and your doctor will push the tip of the device into your skin until the plastic tube is rooted into the layer of fat just below the skin, explains Dr. Purdie. Then you’re good to go.
When you get to your appointment, your health care provider will walk you through this entire process, so if you have any questions upfront, they can answer them right there and then. They’ll also do a urine test to make sure you’re not pregnant, Josie Urbina, MD, an ob-gyn and a complex family planning specialist with the University of California, San Francisco, tells SELF. (You can get the implant placed right after having an abortion or giving birth). Then, it’s on to the procedure. Once the implant’s in place, they’ll wrap your arm in bandages, go over what you can expect in the short- and long-term, and send you on your way.
How you might feel after getting the birth control implant
Your arm will remain numb for an hour or two after the procedure, though you may start to feel some pain and soreness a few hours later when the anesthetic wears off. Some people will develop a bit of bruising, says Dr. Purdie. The soreness shouldn’t be too bothersome, but if it is, over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen—plus putting some ice on your arm—can help, says Dr. Urbina.