GET THE SCOOP. . .
What is Nexplanon?
Long-acting and reversible, Nexplanon is the contraceptive that is placed under the skin of your underarm. Unlike many other birth control options, it can provide pregnancy protection for up to three years (1).
The implant is a small, flexible plastic rod akin to the shape and size of a matchstick that is inserted by a healthcare professional. Rather than requiring regular application/removal or doses, Nexplanon stays put until it is removed three years later.
Most importantly, Nexplanon is 99% effective, so it is pretty much just as reliable as most other forms of contraception (1). It is popular because it requires minimal maintenance or thought after it is implanted—you’ll just have to periodically check your arm to make sure that it’s in the right place.
HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL AND WEIGHT GAIN: SOME FACTS
A hormonal birth control option can often be the preferred form of B.C. for some people, but it’s important to know that they often can come with side effects like weight gain (2).
The downside is that while studies have been conducted, there is little to offer in the way of definitive evidence about links between weight and birth control, particularly in younger groups where this impact could be more easily noticed (3).
That said, it’s hard to argue with your own personal experience! If you’ve noticed weight gain after starting hormonal birth control, wanting to know more is completely understandable and commendable—knowledge is power, especially when it comes to what kinds of things you’re putting in your body.
The biggest things to note include:
- Results of the studies done are uncertain: Many people respond to birth control differently, and weight gain can be a result of a variety of different environmental factors. For these reasons, it can be hard to pin down whether an individual’s weight gain is due to hormonal birth control or other variables (4).
- Major impacts are unlikely: Though results will vary, you can rest assured that major instances of weight gain are uncommon and not likely to happen. In other words, it’s incredibly unlikely that you will go up several pants sizes solely due to your hormonal birth control (4).
- Many different hormones impact weight (5): Whenever you are looking into hormonal options for medication, it’s important to realize that many of them can impact things like weight, skin, and other factors unrelated to your original needs. Sex hormones in particular, like progesterone (decreased levels of which results in water retetion and water weight) and estrogen (which increases fat stores and reduces muscle mass) can play a big part in fat retention and weight gain (8). So, unsurprisingly, birth controls that impact these hormonal levels can also impact your weight.
Why do we gain weight on birth control?
Now that we’ve established that there definitely are instances where birth control does prompt weight gain in individuals, the real question is: Why?
Dr. Sarah Bennett, a naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, has a lot of experience in helping individuals with hormone concerns (6). Here’s what she has to say about the matter:
“I often see weight gain as a side effect to oral contraceptive pills and other forms of hormonal birth control. Nexplanon specifically is a progestin-based contraceptive. Progestin is a synthetic form of progesterone that inhibits ovulation and protects against pregnancy. The progestins are molecularly similar to the progesterone molecules that are made naturally by the human body. As a result, the body does not respond to the synthetic progestin the same way as bio-identical progesterone. I consistently see that women’s natural production of progesterone is dramatically decreased in response, causing symptoms naturally related to progesterone deficiency like weight gain.”
Though different hormonal birth controls will impact different types of hormone levels, it’s important to know that Nexplanon specifically can interact with your body in a way that causes things like weight gain or similar side effects due to the progesterone decrease. However, not all bodies will experience this! Aisha Williams RN, a nurse based in California tells us, “As far as the Nexplanon goes, I cannot recall any of my patients complaining of weight gain with this device in particular! However, for some people, progesterone can stimulate or suppress appetite accounting for weight gain or weight loss.”
Other Nexplanon side effects
In addition to the weight gain, there are also other possible side effects, the most common being a change in your menstrual bleeding pattern (7). This can include:
- Longer/shorter bleeding during your period
- No bleeding during your period
- Spotting between periods
- Varying amounts of time between periods
Aside from that, the other common side effects experienced include:
- Mood swings
- Pain in breasts, back, stomach, site of insertion or in general
- Viral infections
- Painful periods
The severity of any of these can vary from person to person, but if you are experiencing uncomfortable side effects that are impeding your way of life, be sure to talk to your doctor and see if it may be better to switch.
Nexplanon is a great solution for people who are looking for birth control that they don’t have to stay on top of on a daily basis. That said, every solution in medicine also comes with its own set of side effects or downsides. With hormone-based medications, this can often include things like weight gain. However, by being informed, you will undoubtedly make the best choices for you and be able to have open and educated conversations with your health care provider about your options.
Written by: Katherine (Tori) Lutz
Medically reviewed by: Aisha Williams, RN
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