The birth control patch is a thin, beige, 1¾-inch (4½-centimeter)
square patch that sticks to the skin. It releases hormones through the skin into the
bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Hormones are chemical substances that control the
functioning of the body's organs.
How Does the Birth Control Patch Work?
The combination of the hormones progesterone and estrogen in the patch prevents
ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries during a girl's monthly cycle).
If an egg isn't released, a girl can't get pregnant because there's nothing for a
guy's sperm to fertilize.
The hormones in the patch also thicken the mucus produced in the cervix, making
it difficult for sperm to enter and reach any eggs that may have been released. The
hormones can also sometimes affect the lining of the uterus so that if the egg is
fertilized it will have a hard time attaching to the wall of the uterus.
Like other birth control methods that use hormones, such as the birth
control pill or birth
control ring, a girl uses the birth control patch based on her monthly menstrual
cycle. She puts on the patch on the first day of her menstrual cycle or the first
Sunday after her menstrual cycle begins. She will change the patch on her skin once
a week for 3 weeks in a row. (The patch should be applied to one of these four areas:
the abdomen, buttocks, upper outer arm, or upper torso — except for the breasts.)
On the fourth week, no patch is worn, and a girl's period should start during this
Using the Patch
It's important to apply a new patch on the same day every week to make sure that
it keeps working effectively. For example, a girl who applies her first patch
on a Monday should always apply her patches on a Monday.
When it's time to change the patch, pull the old one off first, before applying
a new patch. Place the new patch on a different area from the old patch (but still
on one of the four recommended areas) to avoid skin irritation. Don't apply the patch
to skin that is red, irritated, or cut.
For the first 7 days on the patch, use an additional form of contraception as well
to prevent pregnancy.
If you forget to apply a new patch on the right day, or if the patch becomes loose
and falls off, read the instructions that come in the package or call your doctor.
If this happens, you might need to use a backup method of birth control (such as condoms) or stop having
sex for a while to protect against pregnancy. Also, if you stop using the patch for
any reason, you will need to begin using another birth control method, usually after
24 hours of removing your last patch.
It's OK to participate in regular activities like swimming and exercise while wearing
the patch. It can also get wet in the shower or in the bath. Do not remove the patch
until the week is over (pulling the patch off to reposition or move it may cause it
to lose some of its stickiness and it might fall off easily). If the patch does not
stick well, apply a replacement patch. Don't try to decorate the patch, change the
size of a patch by trimming it, or try to attach it with tape. Talk to your doctor if
the patch falls off.
The patch should not be applied over makeup, creams, lotions, powder, or other
skin products as these may prevent it from sticking well. (Skin products may also
affect how hormones are absorbed by the skin.)
When you remove the patch, fold it in half with the sticky sides facing each other
(to prevent the chemicals from getting into other items in the trash and going to
the soil) and throw it away (don't flush it down the toilet).
How Well Does the Birth Control Patch Work?
Ongoing studies suggest the birth control patch is as effective as the birth control
pill. That means that about 9 out of 100 couples will have an unintended pregnancy
during the first year of use. Of course, the chance of getting pregnant depends on
whether you use the patch correctly. Delaying or missing a weekly application or removing
a patch too early lowers its effectiveness and increases the chance a girl will become
For girls who weigh more than 198 pounds (90 kilograms), the contraceptive patch
may be less effective in preventing pregnancy.
In general, how well each type of birth
control method works depends on a lot of things. These include whether a person
has any health conditions or is taking any medicines that might interfere with the
patch. How effective the patch is at preventing pregnancy also depends on whether
the method chosen is convenient — and whether the person remembers to use it
correctly all the time.
Abstinence (the decision to not have sex or any genital intimacy) is the only
method that always prevents pregnancy and STDs.
Are There Any Problems With the Birth Control Patch?
The birth control patch is a safe and effective method of birth control. Most young
women who use the patch have no side effects. Smoking cigarettes while using the patch
can increase a girl's risk of certain side effects, which is why health professionals
advise women who use the patch not to smoke.
The side effects that some women have while using the patch are similar to those
experienced with the birth control pill. These may include:
irregular menstrual bleeding
nausea, headaches, dizziness, and breast tenderness
blood clots (these are rare in women under 35 who do not smoke, but there may
be a higher risk with the patch than with the Pill)
Other possible side effects seen in patch users include:
skin reactions at the site of application of the patch
problems with contact lens use — a change in vision or inability to wear
Many of these side effects are mild and tend to disappear after 2 or 3 months.
Who Is the Birth Control Patch Right for?
The birth control patch may be a good choice for sexually active young women who
weigh less than 198 pounds (90 kilograms) and find it difficult to remember to take
a pill every day or who have difficulty swallowing pills.
Not all women can — or should — use the birth control patch. In some
cases, medical or other conditions make the use of the patch less effective or more
risky. For example, it's not recommended for women who have had blood clots, severe
high blood pressure, some
cancers, certain types of migraine
headaches, or diabetes with certain problems. Girls who have had unexplained vaginal
bleeding (bleeding that's not during their periods) or who think they may be pregnant
should talk to their doctors, discontinue using the patch, and use another form of
birth control in the meantime.
Girls who are interested in learning more about the possible health benefits and
risks of different types of birth control, including the patch, should talk to a doctor
or other health professional.
Where Is the Birth Control Patch Available?
A doctor or a nurse practitioner must prescribe the patch. He or she will ask questions
about health and family medical history, and may also do a complete physical exam,
including a blood pressure measurement and a pelvic
exam. If recommending the patch, the doctor or nurse practitioner will write a
prescription and give you instructions on how to use it.
Those who start using the patch may be asked to return within a few months
for a blood pressure measurement and to make sure that there are no problems. After
that, a doctor may recommend routine exams once or twice a year or as needed.
How Much Does the Birth Control Patch Cost?
The cost of the patch can range from free to around $85 a month. Check your health
insurance plan and what programs are available (such as Planned Parenthood) to get
the best price.