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10+ things you need to know about the contraceptive implant

Health By Audrey Masitsa
The birth control implant is a one-time contraceptive (Photo: Shutterstock)

With the various forms of birth control available, Planned Parenthood has termed the implant as the “get-it-and-forget-it birth control”. 

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It is a small, thin rod which a trained medical practitioner inserts into your arm. Unlike pills and injections which you have to take every day or month depending on which one you opt for, the birth control implant is a one-time contraceptive.  Once it is inserted into your arm you can forget about it until it expires. However, if you want to get pregnant, you can have it removed irrespective of the duration you have had it.

How is it applied?

After a detailed medical background is taken, a trained medical practitioner numbs your upper arm and then, using a special tool inserts the implant under your skin. The process is painless.

After the local anaesthesia has worn out you will feel some pain but this shouldn’t last too long.

Your arm may feel a bit tender or swollen for the first couple of days. Your skin may also appear bruised. It’s important to contact your health practitioner if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

How long does it last?

This contraceptive method can last between three and five years. The health practitioner will ask you which one you want.

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How soon can you have sex?

If it’s inserted in the first five days of your menstrual cycle i.e. in the first five days of your period, you can have sex immediately.

However, if it’s inserted outside of this period you will need to use another method of contraception such as condoms for the first seven days.

Additionally, inserting the implant within 21 days of giving birth will prevent pregnancy. After this, you’ll need to wait seven days before having unprotected sex. Otherwise, you’ll need to use a condom.  

How does it work?

This method of contraception contains progestin alone making it safe to use for people who can’t use birth control methods that have oestrogen.

Progestin prevents ovulation and also thickens cervical mucus making it harder for sperm to move through the cervix. This reduces the likelihood of fertilisation. The uterus’ lining also becomes thinner thus it is more difficult for a fertilised egg to get implanted.

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Risks involved

While almost anybody can get the implant, some medical conditions can prevent the use of the implant.

If you’re taking medication for tuberculosis, epilepsy, HIV or you’re on certain antibiotics, inform your doctor as these can reduce the effectiveness of the implant.

Patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, have had a heart disease or stroke, or have a liver disease shouldn’t get it. Other patients for whom the implant wouldn’t be suitable include those who have unexplained bleeding after sex or in between their period.

Whenever you visit a doctor to treat any illness, inform them that you have the implant so that they can take this into consideration when they’re prescribing medicine.

It is a small, thin rod which a trained medical practitioner inserts into your arm (Photo: Shutterstock)

What side effects should you be concerned about?

While side effects are rare, you could experience nausea, breast tenderness, weight gain, headaches and ovarian cysts.

If you notice any of the following contact your doctor as soon as possible.

  • Pain, excessive bleeding, pus or redness that lasts more than a few days
  • An infection – this is easily treated with some antibiotics
  • A scar at the point where the implant was inserted
  • Your skin and eyes appear yellow
  • You can’t feel your implant anymore or it has changed shape
  • Vaginal bleeding that is heavier and lasts longer
  • Changes to your skin
  • You conceive

Can it be used while breastfeeding?

It is safe to have the implant when you are breastfeeding.

Does it protect against STIs?

The implant does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. It only prevents pregnancy. To protect against STIs, use condoms.

How is it removed?

The implant is removed by numbing the point of insertion, a small incision is then made and the implant taken out.

How soon after removal can you get pregnant?

This is a reversible contraceptive meaning that when you decide you want to have a baby, you can get it removed and start trying. There’s no waiting period and you can get pregnant as soon as it is taken out.

Will it change my period?

Yes. It has been said to reduce the duration of your period and the intensity of cramps in some women. While in other women it can make periods heavier and longer.

In some cases the period disappears altogether.

After removal, your period will go back to normal.

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