The contraceptive patch is a small, thin, beige coloured patch, nearly 5cm x 5cm in size. You stick it on your skin and it releases two hormones – estrogen and progestogen. These are similar to the natural hormones that women produce in their ovaries and like those used in the combined pill.
Read this information to find out:
How effective any contraceptive is depends on how old you are, how often you have sex and whether you follow the instructions.
If 100 sexually active women don’t use any contraception 80 to 90 will become pregnant in a year.
If used correctly and according to instructions the patch is over 99 per cent effective. This means less than one woman in 100 will get pregnant in a year.
If the patch is not used according to instructions, more women will become pregnant.
Research has shown that the patch may not be so effective for women who weigh 90kg (14 stone) or over so an alternative method may be advisable.
The patch releases a daily dose of hormones through the skin, into the bloodstream. The main way it works is to stop the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). It also:
You can go to a contraception or sexual health clinic, or general practice. If you prefer not to go to your own general practice, or they don’t provide contraceptive services, they can give you information about another practice or clinic. All treatment is free and confidential.
You don’t need to have a vaginal or breast examination or cervical screening test when you are first prescribed the patch.
Not everyone can use the patch so your doctor or nurse will need to ask you about your own and your family’s medical history to make sure the patch is suitable. Do mention any illnesses or operations you have had. Some of the conditions which may mean you should not use the patch are:
You have now or had in the past:
If you are healthy, don’t smoke and there are no medical reasons for you not to use the patch, you can use it until you are 50 years old. You will then need to change to another method of contraception.
Some of the advantages of the patch:
There are some serious side effects of the patch (see Are there any risks?). In addition:
The patch can have some serious side effects, but these are not common. For most women the benefits of the patch outweigh the possible risks. All risks and benefits should be discussed with your doctor or nurse.
If you need to go into hospital for an operation or you have an accident which affects the movement of your legs, you should tell the doctor that you are using the patch. The doctor will decide if you need to stop using the patch or need other treatment to reduce the risk of developing thrombosis.
Research has not shown that the patch causes weight gain. Some women may find their weight changes throughout their cycle due to fluid retention.
You can start the patch anytime in your menstrual cycle if you are sure you’re not pregnant.
If you start the patch on the first day of your period you will be protected against pregnancy immediately.
You can also start to use the patch up to and including the fifth day of your period and you will be protected from pregnancy immediately.
However, if you have a short menstrual cycle with your period coming every 23 days or less, starting the patch as late as the fifth day of your cycle may not provide you with immediate contraceptive protection. This is because you may ovulate early in the menstrual cycle. Talk to your doctor or nurse about whether you need to use additional contraception.
If you start the patch at any other time in your menstrual cycle you will need to use additional contraception, such as condoms, for the first seven days of using the patch.
You can start to use the patch from 21 days after you gave birth. Starting on day 21 you will be protected against pregnancy straightaway. If you start later than day 21, you will need to use additional contraception for seven days.
If you are breastfeeding a baby under six months old, using the patch may reduce your flow of milk. It is usually recommended that you use a different method of contraception.
You can start using the patch immediately after a miscarriage or abortion. You will be protected from pregnancy immediately.
You apply a new patch once a week, every week for three weeks (21 days). You then stop using the patch for seven days (patch-free week). This is called a patch cycle.
You can use the patch on most areas of your body as long as your skin is clean, dry and not very hairy. You should not put it on skin that is sore or irritated or anywhere that can be rubbed by tight clothing. Don’t put it on your breasts. It is also a good idea to change the position of each new patch to help reduce the chance of any possible skin irritation.
Yes. You are protected if:
The patch is very sticky and should stay on. It should not come off in the shower, bath, hot tub or sauna, or during swimming or exercise. However, if it does come off, what you need to do will depend on how long it has been off.
If the patch has been off for less than 48 hours:
If the patch has been off for 48 hours or longer or you are unsure how long:
If the patch has been on for less than 48 hours:
If the patch has been on for 48 hours or more:
Take the patch off as soon as you remember, have a patch-free break and start with a new patch on your usual start day even if you are bleeding. This means that you have a fewer number of patch-free days than usual. You will be protected against pregnancy and do not need to use any additional contraception. You may or may not bleed on the patch-free days.
This is the most risky time to forget to put on a patch. Put on a new patch as soon as you remember. This is now the beginning of your new patch cycle. You will now have a new day of the week as your start day and change day.
If you put on the new patch 48 hours or more after your usual start day then you may not be protected from pregnancy. Use an additional method of contraception, such as condoms, for the next seven days. If you had sex in the previous few days and were not using a condom ask your doctor or nurse for advice as you may need emergency contraception.
This is called breakthrough bleeding. It is very common when you first start using the patch. This is not harmful or anything to worry about. It may take up to three months to settle down. It is important to continue using the patch correctly, even if the bleeding is as heavy as your withdrawal bleed.
Bleeding may also be caused by not using the patch correctly or by a sexually transmitted infection. If it carries on or starts after you have used the patch for some time, then seek advice.
If you used all three patches correctly and have not taken any medicines which might have affected the patch, then it is very unlikely that you are pregnant. So start your next patch at the right time. If you are worried ask your doctor or nurse for advice, or do a pregnancy test. Using the patch does not affect a pregnancy test. Always take a test or speak to a health professional if you miss more than one bleed. If you do become pregnant, there is no evidence to show that using the patch harms the baby.
Yes. This is not harmful. To do this you just miss out the patch-free week by using another patch straightaway. Sometimes you do still get bleeding. This is nothing to worry about and if you are using the patch correctly, you will still be protected against pregnancy.
It is easy to change from the patch to another method of contraception. Talk to your doctor or nurse as you may need to miss out the patch-free week or use additional contraception for a short time.
Ideally, it is easier if you stop using the patch at the end of the patch cycle. If you don’t want to wait until this time, ask your doctor or nurse for advice because you can risk becoming pregnant if you have had sex recently. If you do not want to become pregnant you should use another method of contraception as soon as you stop using the patch. Your normal periods may not come back immediately. For some women it can take a few months.
If you want to try for a baby it is advisable to wait for one natural period after stopping the patch before trying to get pregnant. This means the pregnancy can be dated more accurately and you can start pre-pregnancy care such as taking folic acid and stopping smoking. Ask your doctor or nurse for advice. Don’t worry if you get pregnant sooner, it will not harm the baby.
No. You do not need to take a break because the hormones do not build up. There are no known benefits to your health or fertility from taking a break.
No. This is not recommended. You should also avoid covering the patch with body cream or lotions, such as sun tan lotion. This may cause the patch to become loose.
When you first start using the patch you will usually be given three months' supply to see how it suits you. After that you should go back to the doctor or nurse to get new supplies and to have your blood pressure checked. If there are no problems, you can be given up to one year’s supply of patches.