A birth control implant is a small, thin rod the size of a matchstick that releases hormones which prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs. These implants are inserted under the skin into the upper arm area by a nurse or doctor, and they can last for up to 4 years. They are not the same as IUDs (intrauterine devices), which are tiny devices inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Both birth control implants and IUDs are LARCs, or Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives, meaning these methods last for an extended period of time, are highly effective, and work without user action but cannot be controlled or terminated by the user. (To learn more about trade-offs to consider when considering a contraceptive method, visit our advocacy page.) There are both hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs, but all birth control implants are hormonal methods of contraception.
Although both are contraceptive methods, many people use birth control implants or hormonal IUDs for other purposes such as having lighter periods, less PMS symptoms, and managing abdominal pain during the menstrual cycle. Birth control implants and IUDs are both more than 99% effective, and though they are reversible, it is important to note that both methods require a clinician for both insertion and removal. Although there are a few different types of implants, including Implanon and Nexplanon, they do have a hefty price if you do not have insurance. You may also have to pay for removal out of pocket if you lose your insurance after insertion, and some state Medicaid programs still penalize women who seek to have their implants removed—important considerations before beginning these methods.
LARCs do not protect against STIs, and if you don’t get the implant inserted during the first 5 days of your period, you should use another contraceptive method such as condoms for the first week. Otherwise, you are protected right away. For IUDs, it can vary depending on which type or brand you have. The most noticeable difference between IUDs and implants is the insertion method, as well as the side effects that go along with it. IUD insertion is done with a speculum via the vagina and cervix, and some people experience pain, cramping, and spotting after their IUD insertion. Implant insertion involves numbing the upper arm area and using a tool to insert the device into the arm, which may result in achiness and slight bruising.
In terms of maintenance and effectiveness, the implant and IUDs are actually very similar. But depending on your preferred insertion method, side effects, and overall patterns of your menstrual cycles, you may prefer one over the other, or a different method entirely. For more information about the different kinds of implants, check out the Guttmacher Institute’s website and NWHN’s birth control resources.
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