Birth Control Hormones: The Patch
The patch is used to prevent pregnancy. It looks like a bandage. You put it on the skin of your belly, rear end (buttocks), upper arm, or upper body (but not on a breast).
The patch releases a regular dose of the hormones estrogen and progestin. These hormones prevent pregnancy in three ways. They thicken the mucus in the cervix. This makes it hard for sperm to travel into the uterus. They thin the lining of the uterus, which makes it harder for a fertilized egg to attach to the uterus. The hormones also can stop the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation).
The patch provides birth control for 1 month at a time. You change the patch once a week for 3 weeks and then go without a patch for 1 week. During this week, you have your period. Your period may be very light. You also may use the patch continuously, without stopping for a week each month. With this method, you won't have your period.
How well does it work?
In the first year of use:
- When the patch is used exactly as directed, fewer than 1 person out of 100 has an unplanned pregnancy.
- When the patch is not used exactly as directed, 9 people out of 100 have an unplanned pregnancy.
Be sure to tell your doctor about any health problems you have or medicines you take. Your doctor can help you choose the birth control method that is right for you.
What are the advantages of using the birth control patch?
- The patch is more effective for preventing pregnancy than barrier methods of birth control, such as the condom or diaphragm.
- It may reduce acne, heavy bleeding and cramping, and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
- The patch may be used continuously, without stopping for a week each month. This protects against pregnancy and is also a safe way to avoid having your period. This may help if you have painful periods.
- It's convenient. You put it on only 3 times each month. You don't have to interrupt sex to protect against pregnancy.
- It's easy to check to see if you forgot to put one on.
What are the disadvantages of using the birth control patch?
- The patch doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or HIV/AIDS. If you aren't sure if your sex partner(s) might have an STI, use a condom to help protect against disease.
- The patch may cause changes in your period. You may have little bleeding, skipped periods, or spotting. If you use the patch continuously, without stopping for a week each month, your periods will stop. But you may still have breakthrough bleeding. This usually isn't harmful and may decrease over time.
- It may cause mood changes, less interest in sex, or weight gain.
- The patch contains estrogen. It may not be right for you if you have certain health problems or concerns.
- It may increase your risk of blood clots.
- It may be less effective in women who are overweight.
- You must remember to change the patch on schedule.
Current as of: November 22, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine