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Birth control options: the patch

The birth control patch is a hormonal method of birth control, like birth control pills, Depo Provera or Mirena. The patch contains the same forms of progesterone and estrogen found in many birth control pills. A new patch is applied each week and the hormones are absorbed through the skin. Studies show that it is about as effective as birth control pills when used correctly. Some researchers think that the patch may be even more effective in “real world” conditions, because it is easier to remember to apply a patch once a week, than to take a pill every day. The patch does not protect you and your partner from sexually transmitted infections.

Studies suggest that the patch may be less effective for women who weight over 198 pounds.

Using the patch

The patch is a clear plastic square. Each patch comes in an individual wrapper. Women using the patch wear a new patch each week for three weeks. On the fourth week, no patch is used and the woman’s withdrawal bleed will begin. The patch can be worn on the stomach, buttocks, back or upper arm. Because it contains hormones, it should not be stuck to the breast. The patch is designed to stay in place when a woman showers, exercises or swims. However, about five per cent of the women in the trials had at least one patch come loose during the study.

If you are using the patch and it does come unstuck, try to stick it back on in the same area of the body. If it is no longer sticky, or if it has become stuck to itself or something else, you can apply a new patch. If the patch is reattached (or a new one is used) within 24 hours, you can continue on your cycle and change your patch when you normally would. You don’t need to use a back-up form of birth control.

If the patch is unstuck for more than 24 hours, you need to start over with a new patch. Make the day you apply the new patch, your new day one, and change your patch a week later. You should use a back-up method of birth control, such as a condom, for a week to protect yourself from pregnancy.

Side effects

Skin irritation may be a problem for some women, due to the adhesive that holds the patch in place. In the clinical trials, about two per cent of women stopped using the patch because it irritated their skin. The manufacturer suggests that women wear the patch in a different spot each week to minimize this problem.

Other side effects of the patch are similar to the side effects seen with birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives. The most common are irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, headache and nausea, particularly in the first months of use.


  • very effective at preventing pregnancy
  • your period is regular and predictable
  • you don’t have to interrupt sex to use the patch
  • the woman controls this method of birth control
  • easier to remember than the pill


  • you are not protected against sexually transmitted infections
  • you need a prescription
  • it can come unstuck
  • it may be less effective for heavier women
  • you may have skin irritation or other side effects

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Oct. 29, 2014

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