A birth control patch is a small, sticky patch you wear on your skin to prevent pregnancy. You apply a patch once a week for three weeks. You don’t apply a patch on the fourth week, which allows you to get your period.
A birth control patch is a type of contraception you stick on your skin. Birth control patches are thin, small, beige squares that look like a bandage. They release hormones through your skin into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. You wear a birth control patch for three weeks, then remove it for one week. The birth control patch requires a prescription from a healthcare provider.
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The patch contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. Your skin absorbs the hormones into your bloodstream through the patch. These hormones prevent ovulation (when your ovary releases an egg). If you don’t ovulate, pregnancy can’t occur because there’s nothing for a sperm to fertilize.
These hormones also help to:
You should start the patch on the same day your provider prescribes it if you’re reasonably sure you aren’t pregnant. These are the criteria to be sure you aren’t pregnant:
The patch works on a four-week cycle.
You need to use backup contraception for the first week you use the patch. After that, you don’t need to worry about a backup method for pregnancy prevention if you’re using the patch correctly. The patch doesn’t prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so it’s still important to use condoms.
If you forget to replace your patch, do it as soon as you remember. If it’s been longer than 48 hours (you’re more than two days late in replacing the patch), use backup birth control for at least one week.
You can place the birth control patch on your:
Don’t place the patch near your breasts or on any cut, red or damaged skin. Read the packaging closely, as certain birth control patches have different instructions on where to place them.
When it’s time to remove and replace your patch, take the following steps:
Don’t attempt to trim or cut the patch, or apply it on top of makeup, lotion or other skin products. This can affect how well your skin absorbs the hormones and impact its effectiveness.
If you forget or are late in changing your patch, apply a new one as soon as possible.
In general, what you do next depends on what week of the cycle you’re on and how late you are in changing it:
If you’re ever in doubt about what to do, contact your provider and use backup contraception each time you have sex for the next seven days.
The birth control patch is 99% effective with perfect use. However, it’s only about 94% effective with typical use. Perfect use describes a person who follows the instructions “perfectly” every time. Typical use describes a more “normal” use.
Most side effects from the contraceptive patch are temporary and tend to improve after two months. Some of the most common side effects are:
Yes. The birth control patch is very effective in preventing pregnancy with perfect use. Like all birth control options, the patch only works when you use it correctly.
Some of the main advantages of the patch are:
The birth control patch is good for people who experience spotting while taking a daily pill. This is because the patch releases a steady stream of hormones instead of one dose per day (like the pill).
There may be disadvantages to using the birth control patch. Some of those are:
There are also risks with using the patch. You may not be able to use the patch if you:
Talk to your healthcare provider about the risks of using the patch before you make a decision.
Contact your provider if you experience the following symptoms while using the patch:
You should also contact your provider if you consistently don’t get your period during the week the patch is off. While this can be OK, it may also mean the patch isn’t working for you.
Yes and no. The patch follows a typical menstrual cycle, which is based on a four-week schedule. When you use the patch correctly, the fourth week (patch-free week) is your period week. However, not all people will get their period. The amount and duration of bleeding can vary. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t get your period. If you’ve been using the patch correctly, it’s OK not to bleed. Contact your provider if you have any questions.
No, the patch shouldn’t hurt. Some people report that their skin becomes red or irritated while using the patch. If this problem persists, contact your healthcare provider, as you may need another form of birth control.
The birth control patch is sticky and should stay on your skin. It’s made to withstand showering, swimming and bathing.
However, if it peels up or falls off, read the instructions in the packaging on what to do. What you do next depends on how long the patch has been off. The most important thing to do is put on a new patch right away. Use a backup method of birth control (like a condom) for the next seven days to be sure you’re protected against pregnancy.
No. Some people report weight gain or bloating from using the patch. However, research has shown that hormones in the birth control patch shouldn’t cause weight gain.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The birth control patch is a small, square patch that sticks to your skin. It releases a steady stream of hormones to prevent pregnancy. It’s a highly effective form of birth control when you use it correctly. Talk to your healthcare provider about the birth control patch to see if it may be an option for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/01/2022.
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