Birth Control Patch
Effectiveness in Preventing Pregnancy
- Of 100 women who use this method each year, about nine may get pregnant.
What is the birth control patch?
The birth control patch is a thin, beige plastic square about two inches across that delivers hormones, chemicals that control how different parts of the body work, to the body through contact with the skin. It looks similar to an adhesive bandage. The patch has a sticky side that attaches to the skin and is placed on the stomach, buttocks, back, or upper outer arm. Patches that deliver chemicals through prolonged contact with the skin are also known as transdermal patches.
How do I use it?
Patches are used on a four-week cycle (three weeks on and one week off). You put a new patch on each week for three weeks (be sure to take off and throw away the old patch). During the fourth week, you do not wear a patch and your period should start. After the fourth week, you start the four-week cycle again and put on a new patch even if there is still some bleeding from your period.
Tips on using the patch:
- To help you remember, try to put a new patch on the same day each week.
- Put the patch on clean, dry skin and press to make sure it stays on. Be careful not to touch the sticky side while putting it on your skin.
- Check each day to make sure the patch is still in place.
- It is okay to shower, bathe, and/or swim while wearing a patch.
- Do not place the patch on a breast.
- If the patch comes loose or falls off, you should put on a new patch. You will need to use an additional method of birth control, such as a condom, to reduce chances of unintended pregnancy if the patch has been off for more than 24 hours.
Discuss your medical history with your healthcare provider before using the patch. When using the patch, let your healthcare provider know if you develop any side effects such as skin irritation/reactions, headaches, bleeding between periods, nausea, and breast tenderness. Most of these side effects decrease over time.
How effective is it?
Of 100 women who use this method each year, about nine may become pregnant. The risk of pregnancy is much less for women who use the patch correctly (for example, putting it on the skin the same time each week). Certain medications such as Rifampin (an antibiotic taken to treat tuberculosis), some anti-seizure medications, and supplements (such as St. John’s Wort) may make the patch less effective. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have any questions about using the patch.
How do I get it?
You may need a prescription from your healthcare provider, depending on the state where you are getting birth control patches. Once you have a prescription, birth control patches can be purchased at pharmacies or obtained from some health centers, including family planning centers.
Advantages of the patch
- The patch is easy to use.
- It is safe and works well to prevent pregnancy. Using the patch means you do not have to think about birth control when you want to have sex.
- You can see the patch and be assured it is in place.
- It may make your periods lighter and more regular.
- It may reduce menstrual cramps and acne.
- It may reduce the risk of developing non-cancerous breast tumors and some cancers that affect reproductive organs.
Drawbacks of the
- The patch does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV. Always use a condom to reduce the risk of STDs.
- It requires a visit to a healthcare provider and a prescription.
- Certain medications such as Rifampin (an antibiotic taken to treat tuberculosis), some anti-seizure medications, and supplements (such as St. John’s Wort) may make the patch less effective.
- It may take a month or two after stopping the use of the patch before normal periods return.
- Some women experience side effects, including skin irritation where the patch is worn. Others may have headaches, bleeding between periods, nausea, and breast tenderness.
- It exposes users to higher levels of estrogen compared to most combined oral contraceptives (birth control pills).
- It is not known if serious risks, such as blood clots and strokes, are greater with the patch than with birth control pills or the vaginal ring due to the greater exposure to estrogen.
Did You Know?
Condoms add extra protection against pregnancies and STDs when used with other birth control methods.
Content last reviewed on July 13, 2017