What Is It?
The birth control patch is a thin, beige, 1 3/4-inch (4 1/2-centimeter)
square patch that sticks to the skin. It releases hormones through
the skin into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. The hormones released
are similar to the hormones that are made in our bodies. Hormones
are chemical substances that control the functioning of the organs
of the body.
How Does It 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
The hormones in the patch also thicken the cervical mucus (the
mucus produced by cells in the cervix). The cervix is the part of
the uterus that sits within the vagina and acts as the opening to
the uterus. This makes it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus
and reach any eggs that may have been released. The hormones in
the patch 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 ring, a girl begins the use of the birth control
patch on the first day of her menstrual cycle or the first Sunday
after her menstrual cycle begins. She will place the patch on her
skin once a week for 3 weeks in a row. (The patch should be applied
to one of four areas: the abdomen, buttocks, upper 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 time.
It's important to apply a new patch on the same day every week
to ensure the patch 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 listed above) to avoid skin irritation. Don't
apply the patch to skin that is red, irritated, or cut.
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. You may need to use a backup
method of birth control for a while, such as condoms, or stop having
sex for a while to protect you from pregnancy. Also, if you stop
using the patch for any reason, you will need to begin using another
method of birth control, usually after 24 hours of removing your
It's OK to participate in your normal activities like swimming
and exercise while wearing the patch. You can also get it wet in
the shower or in the bath. However, the patch should not be moved
or removed until the week is up (pulling the patch off to reposition
or move it may cause it to lose some of its stickiness and it might
fall off easily). Don't try to change the size of a patch by trimming
it and don't try and attach it with tape. Your doctor will be able
to advise you on what to do 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
How Well Does It Work?
Ongoing studies suggest the birth control patch may be as effective
or nearly as effective as the birth control pill. That means that
about five to eight 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 reduces its effectiveness
and increases the chance a girl will become pregnant.
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 medications that might interfere with
its use. 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.
For teens who want to avoid pregnancy, abstinence (the decision
to not have sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy
and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Protection Against STDs
The birth control patch does not protect against sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs). For those having sex, condoms must always be used
along with birth control patches to protect against STDs.
Possible Side Effects
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
- irregular menstrual bleeding
- nausea, weight gain, headaches, dizziness, and breast tenderness
- blood clots (rare in women under 35 who do not smoke)
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 the lenses
- menstrual cramps
These side effects are usually mild and tend to disappear after
2 or 3 months.
Who Uses It?
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
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 is not recommended
for women who have had blood clots, high blood pressure, certain
types of cancers, certain types of migraine headaches, or uncontrolled
diabetes. It's recommended that girls who have had unexplained vaginal
bleeding (bleeding that is not during their periods) or who suspect
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.
How Do You Get It?
A doctor or a nurse practitioner must prescribe the patch. He or
she should ask questions about health and family medical history.
He or she may also do a complete physical exam, including a blood
pressure measurement and a pelvic exam. If the doctor or nurse recommends
the patch, he or she will write a prescription and provide instructions
on how to use it. Those who start using the patch may be asked to
return within several months for a blood pressure measurement and
to ensure that there are no problems. After that, a doctor may recommend
routine pelvic exams once or twice a year or as needed.
How Much Does It Cost?
The patch usually costs between $30 and $35 a month, although health
and family planning clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) might sell
them for less. In addition, the birth control patch and doctor's
visits are covered by many health insurance plans.