When it comes to effective birth control, you can’t cut any corners.
From forgetting to take the pill one day to running out of condoms – there is a whole host of ways birth control can go wrong.
However, there is one solution that’s popular among many young women, particularly those who aren’t great at taking a pill every day – meet the birth control patch.
Let’s find out more about how this works, what its side effects are, and how you should use it.
What Is A Birth Control Patch?
Working very much like a combination pill, the patch helps prevent pregnancy by stopping your ovaries from ovulating (releasing eggs).
It does this by releasing hormones (estrogen and progestin) into your bloodstream, thickening your cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to pass through your cervix, and thinning your womb lining so it’s harder for a fertilized egg to implant it.
A patch is worn on the skin for three weeks (each patch lasts for a week) before a patch-free week commences and induces your monthly period.
In the U.S., Xulane is the birth control patch that’s available. It used to be Ortho Evra (which is still popular in Europe and Canada), but after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Xulane in 2014, this preferred patch took over.
10 Quick Facts About Birth Control Patches
- 1They are 99% effective when used correctly
- 2You can forget about them for a week at a time (so long as you’re vigilant to make sure it hasn’t fallen off)
- 3Unlike the pill, they’re still effective when you have diarrhea or sickness because the hormones pass straight into your bloodstream
- 4You can wear them when you’re swimming, in the bath or shower, or while playing sports
- 5They can sometimes help with painful or heavy periods
- 6They can cause some side effects including raised blood pressure or temporary effects such as headaches
- 7In rare cases, some women will develop blood clots
- 8They may protect against bowel, womb, and ovarian cancer
- 9They might not be suitable if you’re aged 35 or over, are a smoker, or weigh more than 198 pounds – among other things
- 10They don’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which is why condoms are still recommended in some cases
How Do You Use The Birth Control Patch?
When you use the patch for the first time, you should apply it on the first day of your period or the Sunday following the start of your period (even if your period begins on this same day).
For the first cycle, it’s highly recommended to use an extra layer of birth control protection, e.g. condoms or the combination pill. This gives the patch time to work and will help prevent pregnancy. However, if you start with the patch on the first day of your period, this isn’t necessary.
A week later, on the same day you put the patch on, remove the original patch and replace it with a new one.
Try to put it in a different area so your skin doesn’t become irritated from the patch’s adhesive.
After three weeks, you’ll have a patch-free week and should also have your period. A week later, apply a new patch, even if you’re still bleeding or haven’t had your period (however, if the latter applies to you, you should get your doctor’s advice).
Never go longer than 7 days without wearing a patch as this increases your chances of getting pregnant. It’s a good idea to set a reminder on your phone or mark the date on your calendar so you don’t forget.
What do you do if the patch falls off?
Make sure you stick it back on (if it’s still adhesive enough) or replace with a new one within 24 hours.
If you aren’t sure when the patch fell off, you just need to start a new cycle of the patches, taking extra precautions during the first 7 days.
Where should you put the patch?
It should be stuck directly to your skin and can go on almost any area of your body that isn’t too hairy and is clean and dry.
Before you apply it, make sure you’ve haven’t applied lotions, creams, or powders to the area. Don’t stick it onto your breasts, somewhere it could rub off due to tight clothing (e.g. under your bra strap), or irritated or sore skin.
What should you do with used patches?
Fold them in half so the sticky sides seal themselves together and place directly into the trash out of pets’ or children’s reach. Don’t flush it down the toilet.
Who Can Use Birth Control Patches?
The contraceptive patch won’t be suitable for everyone, which is why you should consult your health provider to see if it’s right for you.
They may advise you not to use it if:
Furthermore, when seeing your doctor about the patch, you should also advise them if:
- Jolene Brighten
- Publisher: HarperOne
- Edition no. 1 (01/29/2019)
- Lara Briden ND
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
- Edition no. 2 (09/14/2017)
What Are The Side Effects Of The Birth Control Patch?
Unlike taking a contraceptive pill, the patch may be visible, which some people may find unappealing (i.e. when you’re sunbathing on the beach).
It can also cause soreness, itching, and irritation to the skin, and it doesn’t protect you from STIs so does still necessitate the use of a condom in some cases.
Equally, there are some mild side effects that some women may have when they first start using the patch. These include mood changes, breast tenderness, nausea (sickness), and headaches. But these tend to ease after a few months when your hormones start to settle down.
Spotting (very light bleeding) or bleeding in between your period (breakthrough bleeding) may also occur, especially during the early stages of using a patch. This isn’t anything to worry about and is quite common – and if you’re using the patch correctly, you’ll still be protected from pregnancy.
Other downsides include having to remember to change the patch every week (the implant or intrauterine device may be better if you’re particularly forgetful) and some medicines may impact the patch’s effectiveness.
Furthermore, there are some more serious, albeit rarer, side effects.
The Birth Control Patch And Blood Clots
A minute number of women who are using the patch can develop a blood clot in an artery or vein. That’s why you should never use this method of contraception if you’ve had blood clots before.
You’re also at a higher risk of developing a blood clot if: you smoke, you’re in the first year of having the patch, you’re obese, you use a wheelchair or are immobile, you’re diabetic, you have severe varicose veins, you suffer from migraines with aura, or a close family member died before they were 45 due to a blood clot, stroke, or heart attack.
The Birth Control Patch And Cancer
Research suggests that when people use the contraceptive patch they’re at a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who aren’t (this isn’t limited to the patch, though, and applies to most hormonal contraceptives). Nevertheless, this risk does reduce over time when you cease using the patch.
There’s also research that highlights a small chance of developing cervical cancer when using progestin and estrogen contraception over a long period of time. Again, this relates to many types of hormonal contraceptives.
Taking all of these potential side effects into account, it’s important to be vigilant when using the patch, looking out for any warning signs that could indicate there’s a problem. These include changes in your breasts, any signs you could be suffering from a stroke, high blood pressure, and indications of an allergic reaction, e.g. itching/swelling, a rash, and difficulty breathing.
Common Questions About The Birth Control Patch
What’s The Best Way To Apply The Patch?
After carefully opening the foil pouch, use your fingernail to lift up one of the corners of the patch. Peel away the patch and its plastic liner from the pouch before peeling off half of the protective liner.
Always make sure you haven’t damaged, altered, or cut the patch.
Now, apply half of the sticky surface of the patch to your chosen area of skin, removing the rest of the liner as you stick it into place. Firmly press the patch onto your skin for approximately 10 seconds using the palm of your hand. Make sure the edges are stuck down well and the patch is smoothed out.
What If You Forget To Take The Patch Off?
If you forget to take your patch off during week 1 or 2 of the process, the next step will depend on how much longer the patch has been on for.
For patches that have been in place for 8 or 9 days (less than 48 hours longer than they should have been), you’ll need to take the patch off straight away and replace with a new one. Then, continue as normal, changing on the original day you planned to change them. You’ll still be protected from pregnancy so won’t need to take any additional forms of contraception.
If, however, it’s been on for 10 days or more (over 48 hours longer than it should have been), you’ll still need to apply a new patch as soon as you can but the day you do this will become your new change day. Now, your patch cycle will start and end on this day.
You will also need to use additional contraception for the next 7 days to make sure you’re protected from pregnancy. And if you’ve had sex in the last few days while your old patch was still on, you should speak to a health care professional to see if you need emergency contraception.
Finally, if you’ve forgotten to take your patch off after week 3, you should just remove it as soon as you can. This will commence your patch-free break and you should start your patch cycle again on the original start day – even if you’re still having your period. This may mean you won’t have 7 patch-free days but you’ll still be protected and won’t require additional contraception. You may not have your period during this patch-free period.
What about skipping the patch-free period completely?
While it’s not often stipulated, some women will put a new patch on after week 3, starting a new 3-week cycle of patches so they miss their period. This is just like starting a new pack of combination pills if you’re going on vacation, for example.
What If You Forget The Patch At The Beginning of Your Cycle?
Should you forget to put a new patch on after your patch-free week, you should apply one when you remember. The day you do this will dictate your new cycle day, meaning you may have a new day of the week to start your cycle.
If you remember your patch within 48 hours (i.e. you’ve been patch-free for up to 9 days), you’ll still be protected from pregnancy – so long as you wore your patch properly beforehand.
If you’re over 48 hours late (i.e. you’ve been without a patch for 10 days plus) you will need to take extra precautions as you might not be protected from pregnancy. Again, if you’ve had sex during this interval, you should seek the advice of your doctor about the potential need for emergency contraception.
What If You Don’t Bleed During The Patch-Free Week?
Some women may not bleed when they’re on their patch-free week. This is completely normal if the patch has been used correctly throughout the cycle.
However, if you are concerned, speak to your doctor or do a pregnancy test. You should always seek medical advice if this happens on two consecutive occasions.
Is The Birth Control Patch Right For You?
Ultimately, the choice of contraception you use should be your individual choice.
So long as the patch is recommended by your doctor and you’re happy with how to use it and the potential side effects, this could be the ideal solution for you. Many women do find it a more convenient option to the pill.