Depo-Provera is a form of contraception to prevent pregnancy. Find out how it is given and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Contraceptive injection (prevents pregnancy)
  • Progesterone
  • Long-acting, reversible contraception
  • Depo-Provera®
  • Also called ‘Depo injection’, ‘The injection’

What is Depo-Provera?

Depo-Provera is a form of contraception for women, to prevent pregnancy. It contains only one hormone, called medroxyprogesterone. It does not contain oestrogen. 

  • Depo-Provera is given as an injection, every 13 weeks (approximately every 3 months) when used for contraception.
  • It is referred to as a long-acting form of contraception, which means that once you have had the injection, you don't have to remember about it every day or every time you have sex until the next injection is due.
  • It works by stopping a woman from producing a monthly egg and changes the lining of the womb so it is less likely to accept a fertilised egg.
  • Its effect is reversible which means that your natural fertility returns to normal after you stop using it. This usually takes about 6 months, but can take up to one year.

What are the pros and cons of Depo-Provera?

Pros Cons

✔ You don’t have to remember to take anything every day – last for 13 weeks (approximately 3 months).

✔ Highly effective and reliable at preventing pregnancy in the near future.

✔ Doesn’t interfere with having sex.

✔ Most women will not have periods while on Depo-Provera.

✔ Reduces the risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the womb) by 80%.

✔ May help women who have heavy or painful periods.

✘ Does not protect against STIs, so it’s important to use condoms when you have sex.

✘ May cause irregular bleeding, no periods or occasional heavy bleeding. This is more common on first starting to use Depo-Provera and often improves with time.

✘ Once you have had an injection of Depo-Provera, it lasts at least 13 weeks which can be a nuisance if you experience a side effect.

✘ Your periods and fertility take an average of 6 months to return after stopping the injection.

How well does it work?

Depo-Provera is one of the more reliable forms of contraception.

  • It is about 94% effective, which means that about 6 out of every 100 women who use Depo-Provera will get pregnant each year.
  • If you have your injections on time, every 13 weeks, Depo-Provera is more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.

How is Depo-Provera given?

Depo-Provera injection will be given to you by your doctor or nurse.

  • If the first injection is given within the first 5 days after the beginning of a normal menstrual period you will be protected from pregnancy straight away.
  • If you have recently given birth, your doctor will advise you on the best time to have the injection.
  • Depo-Provera is usually given as a single injection into the muscle in your buttock. It can sometimes be given into the upper arm.
  • It is given every 13 weeks. If you are more than 5 days late for your next Depo-Provera injection, you may be at risk of getting pregnant. If this happens, your doctor will want to be sure that you are not pregnant before giving you another injection. You also may need to use an additional form of contraception such as a condom for 14 days until this next injection takes effect.

Who should not use Depo-Provera

Depo-Provera is not recommended for women who have had breast cancer within 5 years or for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy in the next few months. Your doctor will be able to recommend alternative forms of contraception.

Your doctor will check your blood pressure and may take some blood tests to make sure your liver is working well.

What are the side effects of depo-provera®?

Like all medicines, Depo-Provera can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Breast discomfort
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Mood changes
  • Skin changes such as acne
  • Feeling sick (nausea)
  • Tell your doctor or nurse if troublesome.
  • Irritation or pain at the injection site
  • This usually settles after a few days.
  • Tell your doctor or nurse if this is ongoing or gets worse.
  • Changes in your menstrual cycle such as spotting, longer periods, shorter periods, or no periods
  • Speak to your doctor or nurse if you are concerned.
  • Changes in weight, either putting on weight or losing weight
  • Speak to your doctor or nurse if you are concerned.
  • Loss in bone density
  • This usually improves after stopping the Depo Provera injection.
Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product

Learn more

The following links provide more information about Depo-Provera:

Depo-Provera injection NZ Family Planning
Depo-Provera Consumer Medicine Information

Additional resources for healthcare professionals

Medroxyprogesterone acetate NZ Formulary
Depo-provera Medsafe, NZ
New Zealand Aotearoa’s guidance on contraception Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020
Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) injections – an intermediate option BPAC, NZ, 2019
Contraception in early adolescence BPAC, NZ, 2011

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 24 Jan 2019