Birth control patch

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Roshaan Saloojee

, Livi GP

Medically reviewed

The birth control patch is a small patch you stick to your skin that releases hormones that prevent pregnancy. This can be a good choice if you don’t want to take contraception every day.

What is the birth control patch?

The patch is a type of hormonal contraception that you stick directly onto your skin. It can be just as effective as the contraceptive pill – when it’s used correctly, it’s over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. Each patch lasts 1 week, so you don’t have to worry about taking it every day. The patch does not protect against STIs, so you may need to use a barrier protection method like condoms too.

How does the birth control patch work?

This contraceptive patch contains the hormones oestrogen and progestogen. It releases these hormones continuously through your skin into your bloodstream to stop you from releasing an egg (ovulation).

How do I use the birth control patch?

Each patch lasts for 7 days. On day 8, replace the patch with a new one. Change it every week for 3 weeks, then take 1 week off. You might get withdrawal bleeding during the week you’re not wearing a patch. After 7 days without a patch, put another one on and repeat the cycle. You put a new patch on at any time of the day.

If you want to skip your period (withdrawal bleeding), you can wear a patch during the 4th week. It’s safe to do this for several months at a time.

Where can I put the birth control patch?

Stick the patch to a part of your skin that’s not exposed to the sun. Make sure the skin is clean, dry and not too hairy.

Good places to stick your patch include:

  • Upper arm

  • Thigh

  • Tummy

  • Shoulder

  • Lower back

Avoid putting your patch in these places:

  • Breasts

  • A wound or irritated skin

  • On top of moles

  • Wet or oily skin, or anywhere you’ve applied any lotions

  • Anywhere it might get rubbed off by clothing, like a belt or bra strap

  • The same spot you put your last patch – try to switch between 2 or 3 different areas of skin

What to do if your birth control patch falls off

If your patch comes off partially or completely, you can reattach it or replace it with a new patch.

If it’s been off for less than 48 hours:

  • Put a new patch on and carry on as normal in your current cycle

  • Change the patch on your normal change day

  • You’ll still be protected against pregnancy if you’ve worn your patch for the last 7 days (or the 7 days before your patch-free week if you’re in week 1).

If it’s been off for more than 48 hours, or you’re not sure how long it’s been off:

  • Put on a new patch

  • If you’re in weeks 1 or 2, change your patch on your normal cycle

  • If you’re in week 3, start a new patch cycle

  • Use an additional contraceptive, like condoms, for the next 7 days

  • You can also use emergency contraception if you've had sex while your patch was off

Advantages of the birth control patch

  • It can be easier to remember to replace your patch once a week than take a pill every day at the same time

  • You don’t have to interrupt sex to use it

  • It’s still effective if you vomit or have diarrhoea because it passes from your skin into your bloodstream. This is unlike the pill, which has to travel through your digestive system

  • It can also make your periods more regular, lighter and less painful and help relieve premenstrual symptoms

  • It may reduce your risk of ovarian, uterine and bowel cancer

Disadvantages of the birth control patch

  • You still need to think about changing it every week

  • Others may be able to see it

  • It may cause redness and itching – if this happens, you might be allergic to the adhesive

  • It may cause some mild side effects when you first start it, including nausea, tender breasts, headaches and spotting. If these symptoms get worse over time, talk to a doctor

  • Like with any hormonal treatment, the patch can affect your metabolism and may cause a small amount of weight gain

  • Some medicines might interfere with the effectiveness of the patch – talk to a doctor if you need advice

How effective is the birth control patch?

When it’s used correctly, the patch is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. If you start it on the first day of your period, it’s effective right away. If you start it any other day of your cycle, it will take 7 days to reach full protection. You should use an additional contraceptive like condoms until then.

How can I get the patch?

You can get the patch for free from:

  • Family planning and contraception clinics

  • Sexual health or GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics

  • Some GP surgeries

  • Some young people's services

You’ll likely be prescribed a box of 3 patches at first to make sure this method of contraception is right for you.

Is the contraceptive patch right for me?

Hormonal contraception can have effects around your body, so you should speak to a healthcare professional before starting. You might need close monitoring if you suffer from epilepsy, migraines, asthma, depression, or if members of your family have a history of breast cancer or blood clots.

Using the contraceptive patch is not recommended if:

  • You’re over 35 years old and you smoke

  • You have a high BMI

  • You experience severe and unusual headaches, vision issues, a significant rise in blood pressure, or unusual pain in your legs

  • You have or have had hormone-dependent cancer, like breast cancer

  • You suffer from severe high blood pressure or diabetes with vascular damage

  • You have a history of severe migraines accompanied by neurological symptoms

  • You are breastfeeding – the hormones contained in the contraceptive patch pass into breast milk

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Roshaan Saloojee, Livi GP