Introduced in 2002, the birth control patch is a newer method of hormonal contraception in which hormones enter the body through a small patch placed on the skin.

What Is It?

A birth control patch is a small square patch that sticks to the skin and gradually releases hormones into the body to prevent pregnancy.

How Does it Work?

The patch contains two types of synthetic hormones: estrogen and progestin. When released into the body, these hormones prevent pregnancy by blocking the ovaries from releasing eggs, thickening the cervix mucus to keep out sperm, and thinning the walls of the uterus to lower the chances of implantation.

How Do I Use It?

You must have a prescription to use the birth control patch. See your doctor to discuss whether the birth control patch is right for you. The birth control patch is very easy to use. Once a week for three consecutive weeks, simply apply a patch to clean and dry skin on your stomach, upper arm, upper back/shoulder, or buttocks. The fourth week, do not apply the patch, as this is when you’ll have your period. You will use three patches per month. For the best results, always apply the new patch on the same day of each week and follow the instructions on the package and from your doctor.

Effectiveness

The birth control patch is 99 percent effective when used properly. However, because the patch relies on weekly maintenance and may become loose or fall off, there is some risk of error. For instance, less than one out of every 100 women who always use the birth control patch exactly as directed will get pregnant, while eight out of 100 women who do not always use the patch as directed will get pregnant. The birth control patch relies on diligent and proper use in order to prevent pregnancy.

Benefits

The birth control patch is a simple and convenient form of contraception, mostly because you don’t have to think about birth control every time you have sex. Simply apply a new patch once a week and you will have less than a one percent chance of getting pregnant. Hormonal birth control methods can also help regulate your menstrual cycle, resulting in lighter and shorter periods with less cramping.

Disadvantages

The birth control patch does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Hormones affect every woman differently. Some people may experience undesirable side effects, including bleeding between periods, nausea, weight gain or breast tenderness. New research has revealed that women who use the birth control patch (as opposed to other hormonal methods) are more at risk for blood clots, a rare side effect of using birth control with estrogen. There are also very rare cases of heart attack and stroke. These risks are further increased if the patient is overweight, a smoker, or has other medical conditions that predispose her to blood clotting. Overall, the health risks of using the birth control patch are very minimal, but talk to your doctor about any concerns.