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Contraceptive implant

4-minute read

What is the contraceptive implant?

A contraceptive implant is inserted under the skin on the inside of the arm and offers a very effective and convenient long-term contraception option. There is only one type of contraceptive implant available in Australia, called Implanon NXT.

The implant continuously releases small amounts of a hormone, progestogen, that prevents pregnancy. You need a prescription for the implant, and it needs to be inserted and removed by a trained doctor or nurse.

The contraceptive implant is a type of LARC (long-acting reversible contraceptive).

How does the contraceptive implant work?

A contraceptive implant sitting on a young woman’s inner upper arm near the elbow in the position where it would be inserted.
A contraceptive implant sitting on a young woman’s inner upper arm near the elbow in the position where it would be inserted.

The hormone is released slowly over 3 years. The hormone prevents eggs being released from the ovaries (ovulation), and thickens the mucus at the entrance to the uterus (womb) so sperm can't get through. This is similar to the mini pill.

You can feel the implant under the skin, but you usually can’t see it.

How well does the contraceptive implant work?

The contraceptive implant works very well. Out of 100 women who use it for a year, less than 1 will become pregnant. This makes it more effective than the pill.

Certain medicines can reduce the effectiveness of the implant, so make sure your doctor knows all the medicines you use.

A contraceptive implant won’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs); only condoms can do that.

Advantages and disadvantages of the contraceptive implant

The main advantages of the implant are that:

  • it is very effective
  • it doesn’t interfere with having sex
  • once it is taken out, fertility returns quickly
  • there is no need to take a pill or have injections
  • it is safe for use by most women, including those who are breastfeeding
  • it lasts for 3 years, but can be removed earlier
  • it is not expensive
  • it might make your periods less painful and lighter, and reduce pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and acne

The main disadvantages are that:

  • it might change the pattern of your vaginal bleeding, especially in the first 3 months
  • it can cause slight bruising and pain when inserted or removed
  • it might move from its original position
  • if it’s not inserted correctly it may not protect against pregnancy. It’s important to have it inserted by a doctor or nurse who is familiar with the technique
  • it can cause side effects such as tender breasts, mood changes or headaches
  • it may leave a small scar

The most common reason why women decide to remove the implant is unacceptable bleeding, which may be irregular, more frequent, heavier, or longer lasting. However, most women find they have lighter periods than before, and some find their periods stop altogether.

The implant isn’t suitable for women who have severe liver disease, unusual vaginal bleeding, blood clots in the leg or lungs, take certain medication, or who can’t take the hormone progesterone.

Resources and support

For more information, see Family Planning NSW and Jean Hailes for Women's Health.

You should talk to your health professional about the benefits and risks of getting a medical implant. Use the Therapeutic Goods Administration's guide on what to ask. The information is in English, Arabic, Croatian, Farsi, Greek, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2021

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