Whether you’re in the market for a new type of birth control, or it’s your first time considering one, there are probably lots of questions floating around your mind. One of them being: ‘what will happen to my period?’ A valid concern! Let’s take a look at the birth control implant, and what’s likely to happen to your period if you opt for this type of contraception…
Birth control innovation has come a long way since it was first introduced back in the 60s (if we’re not counting the early days of using animal skins as condoms - yikes!), and today there are many different options available. If one doesn’t suit your hormones, another might. One popular type of birth control is the contraceptive implant known as Nexplanon; a small, flexible plastic rod that’s inserted under the skin in the upper arm by a medical professional.
It releases the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream to stop an egg from releasing each month during ovulation, preventing pregnancy for 3 years. It’s also designed to thicken cervical mucus, making it difficult for sperm to move through the cervix to fertilise an egg. It’s an effective method of birth control for many people, and with the exception of a few health conditions, it is often offered by doctors in the UK for those looking to prevent pregnancy.
Until late 2010, Implanon was the only implant product used in the UK, but this was replaced by Nexplanon, which remains the only brand healthcare providers use today. Nexplanon is bioequivalent to Implanon, but features a new preloaded applicator to reduce the risk of insertion errors, and is radio-opaque, meaning it contains barium so it can be located on an X-ray or CT scan if necessary. Studies cited in this blog post may refer to both Implanon and Nexplanon, but the results are thought to be consistent with both.
It has many advantages. Firstly, the implant is more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, with only around 1 in 3,000 sexually active people using the implant becoming pregnant each year (this is often thought to be because they were already pregnant during insertion). In the majority of studies, no one became pregnant… pretty good odds!
Other advantages include the fact that it can be used for 3 years without ever having to think about it, it’s pretty easily reversible, it doesn’t contain estrogen (great news for those who cannot use this type of birth control), it doesn’t interrupt sex, it’s safe to use when breastfeeding, and fertility returns quickly after removal.
Although it doesn’t happen in all cases, Nexplanon is known to change the bleeding pattern of users, so this is something to keep in mind if you choose to try it out. Studies have found most users experience a reduction in the frequency and volume of bleeding, but some (described as a “substantial minority”), experience unpredictable, frequent, and/or prolonged bleeding which - let’s face it - can be frustrating! In fact, studies show 1 in 10 people stop using the implant due to this unfavourable change in their periods.
If you already suffer from heavy bleeding, the implant can sometimes be used to lessen the flow as some people experience shorter periods or none at all. You may also experience spotting between periods (the most common side effect, in fact), brown discharge, or irregular periods, particularly in the first 6-12 months of use.
What’s the likelihood I’ll end up with lighter/heavier periods on the implant?
Although there is no way to tell without trying the implant out for yourself, one interesting study found the percentage of subjects who experienced different negative and positive effects from the implant:
Irregular periods (or any of the above irregularities) are considered normal and probably nothing to worry about, but if anything is painful or negatively affecting your life, you can speak to your doctor at any time to make sure everything’s OK.
Common side effects that cause people to consider having the implant removed include mood swings, weight gain, headaches, acne and depression, so if you experience any of these symptoms you can speak to your GP about switching to another type of birth control instead. And always see your doctor right away if you experience sudden unexplained bleeding, or if you think you may be pregnant.
Irregular bleeding isn't a problem for some people but may cause distress if you prefer to know exactly when your period will arrive each month so you can prepare. Studies show 1 in 10 people had the implant removed due to changes in their bleeding patterns, so don’t be afraid to explore other options if it’s not for you - you can have it removed at any time.
If you have had it for more than 3 months (the time recommended to allow your hormones to settle) and you still feel it’s not for you, speak to your doctor or the sexual health clinic where you had the implant inserted and discuss removal and other options.
Got a question about the birth control implant we haven’t covered here? Chat to other users in the Full Stop FB group, or get in touch on Instagram at @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised menstrual care subscription can get organic tampons, PMS supplements and much more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, whatever your flow.
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