The birth control patch, also known as the contraceptive patch, is a hormonal form of birth control that releases hormones through the skin to prevent pregnancy.

Some patch wearers also use this form of contraception to regulate periods and lessen the effects of:

In this article, we describe the effectiveness of the birth control patch. We also look at the benefits and side effects of the patch and how to use it.

A woman applies a birth control patch.Share on Pinterest
Birth control patches require replacing each week to work effectively.

The birth control patch is a thin square adhesive that delivers hormones when a person applies it to the skin.

As with birth control pills, the birth control patch works by preventing ovulation. Without an egg, sperm has nothing to fertilize, so no pregnancy can occur.

The patch contains the same hormones, called estrogen and progestin, as many birth control pills. These hormones stop ovulation.

In addition to stopping the release of eggs, the hormones increase cervical mucus production, which inhibits sperm movement.

The birth control patch is an effective way to prevent pregnancy. According to Planned Parenthood, with perfect use, it is 99% effective.

However, many people tend to be forgetful and make mistakes when using different forms of birth control, including the patch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with typical use, the patch is ineffective in 9% of cases.

The correct use of the birth control patch is, therefore, essential. When people do not use it correctly, pregnancy can occur.

The birth control patch may not prevent pregnancy due to a person:

  • forgetting to apply a new patch every week
  • taking certain antibiotics, such as rifampin (Rifadin) or isoniazid and rifampin (Rifamate)
  • using HIV medications
  • using griseofulvin (Grifulvin V), an antifungal medication
  • taking certain antiseizure medications
  • using the herbal supplement St. John’s wort

People taking any of the above medications should consider using an additional form of birth control, such as condoms. Anyone who is taking the medication in the long term should consider switching to a different type of contraceptive.

Poor storage conditions may also lessen the patch’s efficacy. It is important to keep the patches at room temperature and out of the sun. People should not open the pouches until it is time to apply a patch.

If the patch falls off for several days in a row, this could also make it ineffective. People should refer to the product instructions to see what to do in this situation.

The birth control patch is a convenient form of birth control. Instead of taking a pill every day, people just need to replace the patch with a new one once a week. People can also easily stop using the patch if they decide to try for pregnancy.

Aside from pregnancy prevention, the birth control patch has other benefits for some people, such as:

  • reducing severe cramping
  • lessening the symptoms of PMS
  • causing lighter periods
  • preventing anemia
  • limiting bone thinning
  • helping with acne
  • preventing cysts in the breasts and ovaries
  • preventing certain types of cancers

For most people, the birth control patch is an entirely safe form of contraception.

However, the birth control patch contains hormones that may cause side effects in some individuals. A few common side effects include:

  • breast tenderness
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • spotting
  • changes in periods
  • skin irritation at the patch site

Most side effects do not last longer than a few months, according to Planned Parenthood. If discomfort persists, a doctor may recommend a different kind of birth control.

It is important to note that the birth control patch does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A person should always use a condom in addition to the patch to limit the risk of STI transmission.

A 2017 study in the International Journal of Women’s Health examined the current literature on the birth control patch.

The researchers concluded that because the birth control patch contains higher estrogen levels than many birth control pills, the risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE) — blood clots that make their way to the lungs — is higher. However, they added that, overall, the absolute risk is still quite low.

A month’s supply of birth control patches costs between $0 and $150, depending on whether a person has health insurance.

Some government programs, such as Medicaid, offer financial assistance that can help pay for birth control, such as the patch.

This type of birth control requires a prescription. A doctor or nurse can prescribe the birth control patch.

In some areas, getting the birth control patch directly from a pharmacist or through online prescription services is possible.

The birth control patch is a simple way to prevent pregnancy. A person should apply a new patch once a week to clean, dry skin. They can place the patch on any of the following areas:

  • upper arm
  • belly
  • outer arm
  • butt cheeks
  • back

A person should press and hold the patch for several seconds to ensure that it stays in place. The patch should remain in place during all kinds of activities, including swimming.

A person should not flush the patch because it contains hormones that can contaminate the water supply.

After 3 weeks of use, people usually take a week off to allow for a period.

People who prefer to skip their period can apply a new patch on the fourth week instead. When skipping periods this way, spotting is likely, especially during the first 6 months.

The birth control patch is for people who wish to prevent pregnancy. It does not protect against STIs.

Some people should avoid using any form of hormonal birth control, including those who have experienced the following health issues:

Women who know or think that they may be pregnant should not use the birth control patch.

Women who are breastfeeding should stop the patch for the first several weeks after the birth because the hormone estrogen could reduce the quality of breast milk.

The patch may also not be suitable for people with overweight or obesity and smokers over the age of 35, including those who have only recently quit smoking.

Once a person stops applying the patches, the body usually returns to normal quite quickly.

Although it can take some time for menstruation to return to normal, pregnancy can happen right after stopping the birth control patch.

The birth control patch is a safe, easy, and reliable way to prevent pregnancy. People who wish to avoid getting pregnant simply need to stick it on and change it every week.

However, it is crucial to recognize that the patch is not for everyone and does not prevent STIs.

People who are unsure whether the patch is right for their needs should consult a doctor to discuss their potential risk factors and other concerns.