Birth Control Patch

The birth control patch is a thin plastic patch (1 3/4 inch square) placed directly on a woman’s skin. It is a hormonal method of contraception obtained by prescription.

How does the Birth Control Patch Work?

The birth control patch contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. These are the same types of hormones used in most birth control pills. Your body absorbs the hormones from the patch.

The patch prevents pregnancy in one of three ways:

  • First, it prevents eggs from being released from the ovaries
  • Second, it thickens the cervical mucus preventing the sperm from reaching the egg
  • Third, it changes the lining of the uterus preventing implantation. Ethical Consideration.

How Do You Use the Birth Control Patch?

The patch is a prescription and must be obtained from your healthcare provider. The patch is worn for one week at a time and it is placed directly on the skin of your buttocks, stomach, upper arm or upper torso.

The patch is replaced once a week on the same day each week for three weeks in a row. The patch is not worn during the fourth week to allow your menstrual flow to occur at this time.

How Effective is the Birth Control Patch?

The patch has a failure rate of less than 1% when it is used correctly and consistently. The patch may not protect you from pregnancy if you are taking antibiotics or medications for fungal infections or seizures. The patch may not prevent pregnancy if you weigh 198 pounds or more.

What are the Side Effects or Health Risks of the Birth Control Patch?

The patch has side effects similar to those experienced by users of oral or other hormonal types of contraception including:

  • Skin irritation
  • Headaches
  • Breast tenderness
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Moderate weight gain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloating

Additional side effects may include yeast infections, contact lens problems, and depression.

The birth control patch should not be used by women who:

  • Smoke
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have breast or uterine cancer
  • Have a history of blood clots
  • Have uncontrolled diabetes
  • Have a history of heart attack or stroke
  • Are allergic to hormones
  • Have diabetes
  • Have liver disease
  • Have unexplained vaginal bleeding.

Additional information was released from the FDA in late 2005 to warn patients and health care providers that the patch exposes a woman to more than 60% more estrogen than the birth control pill. This increased level of estrogen can lead to risks such as blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks.

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Chest pains
  • Redness, swelling, or pain in your legs
  • Abnormal or irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Jaundice (your skin looks yellow)
  • If you are experiencing pregnancy symptoms

Women who wish to use the birth control patch should seek additional consultation with their physician if they are experiencing any of the following medical concerns:

  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High risk for heart disease
  • History of blood clotting conditions
  • History of liver disease

Is the Birth Control Patch Reversible?

Yes. Ovulation usually returns within three menstrual cycles after discontinuing the patch. Pregnancy is possible when you stop using the birth control patch.

How Much Does the Birth Control Patch Cost?

Office visits to obtain a prescription for birth control patches range from $50 to $200. A monthly supply of patches costs approximately $30-$35.

What About the Birth Control Patch and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)?

The birth control patch should NOT be considered as a means for protection against the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Birth Control Patch:

When does the patch begin to work?

The patch begins to work immediately, but the second form of birth control should be used during the first seven days of the first month the patch is used.

What day should I start using the patch?

Your “change patch day” is determined during the first month you start. It may either be the first day after your period ends or the Sunday following the start of your period.

Should I wear them in the same place?

When you change your patch each week, it should be worn in a different approved location. This keeps your skin from getting dry or irritated.

Can I use it while I am breastfeeding?

If you have recently been pregnant or if you are breastfeeding, it is best to consult your physician for the best time to start using the patch.

What do I do if the patch comes off?

If the patch comes off, it is best to replace it with another patch right away. If you do this within 24 hours, no backup method should be necessary.

Can I wear the patch in the water?

The patch may be worn during exercise, swimming or bathing.

What if I don’t like where I put it?

The patch should not be moved once it has been applied until the week has been completed.

Can I make it smaller?

The patch should not be trimmed or altered in any way, and additional adhesives including tape should not be used to keep the patch in place.

What are the Pros and Cons of the Birth Control Patch?

The Pros include:

  • Highly effective when used correctly
  • You do not have to remember to take a pill each day
  • You do not have to go to the doctor’s office for a shot each month
  • Does not inhibit sexual spontaneity
  • Minimal side effects
  • It is reversible

The Cons include:

  • Does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Requires a prescription
  • Requires weekly application
  • Increased exposure to estrogen, which can cause other health complications

Want to Know More?


Mayo Clinic