The patch is a thin beige plaster made of three layers of plastic.
How the Patch works
The contraceptive patch sticks onto your skin and releases the hormones oestrogen and progestogen into your bloodstream. It prevents pregnancy in three ways – by stopping ovulation, making the fluid in your cervix thicker (which makes it more difficult for sperm to enter the womb), and preventing the lining of your womb thickening enough for an embryo to grow in it.
Your doctor or nurse will do some tests to make sure that you can have the contraceptive patch. They check your medical history, make sure that you’re not pregnant and take your blood pressure.
You can start using the patch at any time in your period cycle. If you stick it on within the first five days of your cycle, you will normally be protected from pregnancy straight away. Any other time in your cycle and you’ll need to use condoms or other contraception for seven days.
You can start to use the patch 21 days after you give birth if you’re not breastfeeding. If you’re breastfeeding a baby less than six weeks old, using the patch isn’t advised as it may affect your milk production.
Stick the first patch in the packet onto your skin – you can stick it on most areas as long as the skin is dry, clean and not very hairy. Don’t stick it on your breasts, sore, irritated skin or places where it’s likely to rub against your clothes. Lots of women stick it on their bum, upper arms or lower back.
You apply a new contraceptive patch once a week, every week for three weeks (21 days). You then stop using the patch for seven days (patch-free week). During this week you get a period-like bleed.
After seven patch-free days you apply a new patch on the eighth day. It’s really important that you don’t have more than seven days without the patch – you should do this even if you’re still bleeding.
You will normally be given a three-month supply of patches from your doctor, and if you get on well with it can be prescribed the patch for six months to a year.
How to stop
Stopping using the contraceptive patch is easy – you can just take it off or not replace it after a break. As soon as it’s removed you won’t be protected from pregnancy.
Check out our survey results to see how long it took most women’s cycles to return to their definition of ‘normal’ after they stopped using the patch, and learn about the after effects they’ve experienced.
Things that can go wrong
Sometimes the contraceptive patch can fall off, or you may forget to replace it at the right time. What you should do next depends on how long it has been off or on for, and where you are in your patch cycle. Check out the NHS guide or read the Patient Information Leaflet for advice. You won’t always be protected from pregnancy and may need to use additional or emergency contraception.
Some medicines and antibiotics (like rifampicin and rifabutin, St John’s wort and anti-epilepsy drugs) make the patch less effective. Always tell your doctor or pharmacist that you’re using the patch if you’re prescribed any medication. You’ll need to use condoms or additional contraception until you’re protected from pregnancy again.
With any combined type of hormonal contraception there is a slightly increased risk of developing blood clots in your veins and arteries. We are developing a full guide to the medical research on the serious and potentially life threatening side effects of contraceptives here.