What is the birth control patch?

The birth control patch is a contraceptive device that you can stick to your skin. It works by delivering the hormones progestin and estrogen into your bloodstream. These prevent ovulation, which is the release of eggs from your ovaries. They also thicken your cervical mucus, which acts as a barrier against sperm.

The patch is shaped like a small square. It’s meant to be worn for the first 21 days of your menstrual cycle. You apply a new patch every week. Every third week, you skip a patch, which makes it possible to have your period. After your period, you’ll start the process over with a new patch.

When choosing a birth control method, it’s important to consider both the benefits and the potential side effects. Read on to learn more about the side effects of the patch as well as other things to consider.

Like most hormonal birth control methods, the patch can cause a range of side effects. Most of these aren’t serious and only last for two or three menstrual cycles while your body adjusts.

Potential birth control patch side effects include:

  • acne
  • bleeding or spotting between periods
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • feeling dizzy
  • fluid retention
  • headache
  • irritated skin at the patch site
  • menstrual cramps
  • mood swings
  • muscle cramps or spasms
  • nausea
  • pain in the abdomen
  • tenderness or pain in the breasts
  • vaginal discharge
  • vaginal infections
  • vomiting
  • weight gain

The patch can also cause issues with contact lenses. Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any change in your vision or have trouble wearing contacts.

You should also contact your doctor if you’re still having side effects after using the patch for three months.

Nearly all forms of birth control involving estrogen can increase your risk of certain health problems. But according to Planned Parenthood, these risks aren’t common.

More serious potential side effects of the birth control patch include:

If you smoke or are over the age of 35, your risk of these more serious side effects increases.

You doctor might also suggest another method to you if you:

  • are scheduled for a surgical procedure that will limit your mobility during recovery
  • developed jaundice during a pregnancy or while on the pill
  • get migraines with auras
  • have a history of very high blood pressure or stroke
  • have an elevated BMI or are considered to be obese
  • have chest pain or have had a heart attack
  • have diabetes-related complications that affect your blood vessels, kidneys, nerves, or vision
  • have had uterine, breast, or liver cancer
  • have heart or liver disease
  • have irregular periods of breakthrough bleeding
  • have previously had a blood clot
  • take any over-the-counter or prescription medication, including herbal supplements, that could interact with the hormones

To minimize your risks of serious side effects, be sure to tell your doctor if you:

  • are breastfeeding
  • are taking medication for epilepsy
  • feel depressed or have been diagnosed with depression
  • have a skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis
  • have diabetes
  • have high cholesterol
  • have kidney, liver, or heart disease
  • recently had a baby
  • recently had a miscarriage or abortion
  • think you may have a lump or changes in one or both of your breasts

If you’re concerned about these side effects, nonhormonal birth control may be a better option for you. Read about the different options for birth control without hormones.

In addition to potential side effects and risks, there are many other things to consider when choosing a birth control method. How will it fit into your lifestyle? Will you be able to remember to take a daily pill or would you prefer something more hands-off?

When it comes to the patch, keep the following in mind:

  • Maintenance. You’ll need to change the patch on the same day each week, except for the week when you have your period. If you change it a day late, you’ll need to use a backup form of birth control for a week. You may also have irregular bleeding or spotting with a late patch.
  • Intimacy. The patch won’t interfere with any sexual activities. You also won’t have to pause to put it on during sex.
  • Time line. The patch takes seven days to start working. During this time, you’ll need to use a backup method of contraception.
  • Location. The patch must be placed on clean, dry skin on your lower abdomen, outside of your upper arm, upper back (away from bra straps or anything that could rub or loosen it), or buttocks.
  • Appearance. The birth control patch looks like an adhesive bandage. It also only comes in one color.
  • Protection. While the patch can help to prevent pregnancy, it doesn’t offer any protection against sexually transmitted infections.

The birth control patch could be an effective, convenient alternative to the birth control pill or other methods of contraception. But it does come with some potential side effects and risks.

There are also a few other things to consider, including its appearance and lack of STI protection. Still not sure which method is right for you? Check out our guide to finding your best birth control method.