Birth Control Patch

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 placed on the four parts of your body where you typically wear it.
A birth control patch is a type of contraception you wear on your skin to prevent pregnancy. You can wear the patch on your upper arm, lower abdomen, low back or upper back.

What is the birth control patch?

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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How does the patch work to prevent pregnancy?

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:

  • Thicken your cervical mucus, which makes it hard for sperm to swim through your cervix to your uterus.
  • Thin your uterine lining so a fertilized egg is less likely to implant.

Using the birth control patch and when to start

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:

  • A negative pregnancy test.
  • No sexual intercourse since your last period.
  • Using a reliable method of birth control consistently.
  • If you’re within four weeks of delivering a baby or within seven days of a miscarriage or termination of a pregnancy.

The patch works on a four-week cycle.

  • Weeks one, two and three: You put a new patch on every week, on the same day of the week. For example, replace your patch every Sunday for three Sundays in a row. (Although you can start any day!)
  • Week four: On the fourth week, you don’t put on a new patch when you remove your old patch. This is your patch-free week.
  • During the fourth week (patch-free week), you may get your period. Some people don’t bleed in their patch-free week. This is usually nothing to worry about if you’ve been using the patch correctly. But, if you’re unsure, contact your provider.
  • Apply a new patch after one week (or seven days), even if you’re still bleeding.

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.

Where do you put the birth control patch?

You can place the birth control patch on your:

  • Upper arm.
  • Lower back near your butt.
  • Abdominal area below your bellybutton and above your pubic area.
  • Upper back near your shoulder blades.

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.

Removing and replacing the patch

When it’s time to remove and replace your patch, take the following steps:

  • Remove the old patch.
  • Place a new patch on a different area of your skin.
  • Make sure your skin is clean and dry. It sticks better to areas that aren’t very hairy.
  • You should only place the patch on one of the four areas listed above.

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.

What do I do if I forget to change my patch?

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 it’s been less than 48 hours: You should replace the patch as soon as possible. You can use the same patch if it’s been less than 24 hours since it came off. Otherwise, use a new one. No backup protection is necessary.
  • If it’s been longer than 48 hours: Put on a new patch as soon as possible. Keep your patch change day the same. Use a backup form of birth control for seven days. If you decide to use emergency contraception, it’s safe to do so. However, certain emergency contraception can interfere with the effectiveness of the patch. So, it’s very important to use a backup method for seven days.

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.

How effective is the birth control patch?

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.


What are the side effects of using the patch?

Most side effects from the contraceptive patch are temporary and tend to improve after two months. Some of the most common side effects are:

  • Nausea.
  • Irregular bleeding.
  • Sore breasts.
  • Headache (particularly common in the first few weeks after starting the patch but tends to improve over time).
  • Mood changes.

Is the patch a good birth control?

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.


What are the advantages of using the birth control patch?

Some of the main advantages of the patch are:

  • Easy to apply and replace.
  • Convenient and easier to remember than a birth control pill.
  • Shorter, lighter periods in people with irregular periods.
  • Reversible. This means you can stop using it and become pregnant immediately.
  • May improve acne.
  • Improves menstrual cramps and other PMS symptoms.
  • Doesn’t interrupt sexual spontaneity.

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).

What are the disadvantages of the birth control patch?

There may be disadvantages to using the birth control patch. Some of those are:

  • Your skin under and around the patch can become irritated.
  • You have to remember to replace it each week.
  • It doesn’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • It requires a prescription.
  • It can slightly increase your risk of blood clots (potentially due to more estrogen than other types of birth control).
  • It’s less effective in people who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more (have obesity) or who weigh more than 198 pounds.
  • You can see it on your body. It’s hard to “hide” it.

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.

When should I call my provider?

Contact your provider if you experience the following symptoms while using the patch:

  • Signs of a blood clot such as redness, swelling or pain in your legs.
  • Chest pains.
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding.
  • Jaundice.

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.

Do you get periods with the patch?

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.

Does the patch hurt?

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.

Can the patch fall off?

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.

Can the patch make you gain weight?

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.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 12/01/2022.

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