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 a fertilised egg to implant into it.
Your doctor or nurse will do some tests to make sure that you can use the contraceptive patch. They check your medical history, make sure that you’re not pregnant, confirm your height and weight and take your blood pressure.
Most women can start the patch at any time in their menstrual cycle. If you start your patch within 5 days of starting your period you will be protected from pregnancy straight away (if you have a short cycle then speak to your doctor or nurse). At any other time in your cycle you will need to use condoms or avoid sex for 7 days before you are covered. Make sure you read the packet carefully and speak to a health professional if switching from another contraception method.
There are special instructions for starting the patch if you have just had a baby.
The patch can be started immediately after an abortion or miscarriage.
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 cheek, upper arm or lower back.
You apply a new contraceptive patch once a week, every week for three weeks (21 days). You may then stop using the patch for seven days (patch-free week). During this week you get a period-like bleed called a withdrawal 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 can choose to shorten your break without the patch or even miss it altogether to avoid having a withdrawal bleed
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.
If you want to stop the patch but do not wish to become pregnant then you might want to consider switching to another form of contraception before you stop taking your pill.
Check out our survey results to learn about women’s experiences using the patch.
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.
Side effects that some women experience with the patch include headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, mood swings and changes in sex drive. These are usually temporary and settle after a few months.
Irregular bleeding or spotting is common in the first few months.
The patch may increase your blood pressure
With any combined type of hormonal contraception that contains oestrogen 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.
Use of the patch is also associated with small increased risks of breast cancer and cervical cancer. These reduce with time after stopping.