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If you’re looking to prevent pregnancy, the birth control patch may be a good option for you. This safe method of hormonal contraception comes in the form of a small, square patch that looks like a plastic bandage.

The patch sticks to your skin and gradually releases hormones into your body to prevent pregnancy. In order for it to be effective, you need to replace the patch once weekly.

The birth control patch was introduced in 2002 and is highly effective. According to its directions, when used exactly as instructed, less than 1 percent of users get pregnant while on the patch.

Like any other form of contraception, the birth control patch has its pros and cons. Read on to learn more about its effectiveness, safety, and more.

The birth control patch contains two synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and progesterone (called progestin). These are the same types of hormones found in most birth control pills.

Unlike other forms of birth control, hormones are directly released and absorbed through your skin. These hormones begin to prevent pregnancy by stopping your ovaries from releasing eggs. The hormones also thicken cervical mucus to keep sperm out.

After you initially begin using the patch, it takes about 1 week to reach its full effect.

The birth control patch is easy to use:

  1. Open the foil pouch so that it lies flat.
  2. Decide where you will put the patch. This should be an area of clean, dry skin on your stomach, upper arm, upper back, shoulder, or buttocks.
  3. Peel the patch off the foil.
  4. Peel half of the plastic off the patch. Be careful not to touch the sticky part.
  5. Stick the patch to your skin, peeling off the rest of the plastic.
  6. Push the patch against your skin for 10 seconds using the palm of your hand.
  7. On the same day of the following week, remove the patch.
  8. Dispose of the old patch by folding it in half so that it sticks to itself. Place it in a sealed plastic bag and throw it away.
  9. Apply a new patch using steps 1 to 6.
  10. Do this for 3 weeks. On the fourth week, take a break from using the patch. Then, start again the following week.

Every few days, it’s also a good idea to check that the patch has not come loose. It’s rare that the patch will come loose or fall off completely, but here’s what to do if that happens:

  • If the patch comes loose less than 24 hours after you first applied it, and it’s still sticky, try to reapply it. If it’s not sticky, replace it with a new patch.
  • If your patch is loose or detaches more than 24 hours after you applied it, throw it away and apply a new patch. If this happens, it’s recommended that you use a method of backup birth control for the next 7 days.
  • If you’ve replaced your patch with a new one, the day you replace the patch will become the new day of the week that you change your patch.
  • Check in with your doctor along the way if you have any questions or concerns about your patch coming loose or falling off.

According to Planned Parenthood, the failure rate is less than 1 percent for users who always use the patch according to the directions.

The failure rate is about 9 percent for users who don’t always use the patch according to the directions.

To help increase effectiveness, you should change your patch at the same time on the same day each week. Decide which day and time would be easiest for you before you start using the patch.

All hormonal birth control has the potential to cause rare but serious side effects, including:

There have been conflicting findings, but recent and larger studies demonstrate no difference in risk among estrogen-containing pills, patches, and rings. The overall risk is low.

However, complications are more common if you:

  • smoke and are older than 35
  • have diabetes
  • have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels
  • have certain inherited blood clotting disorders

If you fall into one of these categories, talk with your doctor about if hormonal contraception is right for you.

If you’re interested in using the birth control patch to prevent pregnancy, you’ll need a prescription from your doctor. During this appointment, you can discuss your medical history and determine if the patch is right for you.

Women who are breastfeeding can use the patch, but the estrogen in the patch can affect the amount and quality of your milk during the first 3 weeks of breastfeeding. It’s best to talk with your doctor if you have concerns.

If you’d prefer the convenience of a telehealth visit, some platforms offer prescriptions after signing up for a medical consultation, including:

  • Lemonaid Health. This service offers the Xulane birth control patch after a $25 medical consultation. Lemonaid Health does not deliver the patch to you — you’ll have to pick it up from your local pharmacy.
  • SimpleHealth. After completing an initial consultation and medical questionnaire, you’ll have to pay a $20 one-time consultation fee for this service. SimpleHealth can prescribe the ring, patch, or pill for $0 with most insurance plans, but if you’re not covered, the cost starts at $7 per month. After you receive a prescription, the service will send you the birth control patch every month.
  • PlushCare. PlushCare offers prescriptions for the patch. You’ll first have to book an appointment with a doctor through the platform and talk to them about your medical history and contraceptive needs. The doctor will place a prescription for you at your local pharmacy. However, you’ll have to become a member of PlushCare prior to making an appointment. It costs $14.99 a month (or $99 annually) for a membership, and uninsured folks will have to pay a $119 copay for their first visit.
  • Nurx. With Nurx, you can request a prescription for the patch via an online intake form and a $15 consultation fee. Once a doctor has reviewed your questionnaire, Nurx’s pharmacy will fill your prescription and send a 3-month supply to your doorstep. The patch costs as little as $0 with insurance, but it’s priced from $180 without insurance.

The patch vs. the pill

Both the patch and combination birth control pills use estrogen and progestin to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but the methods deliver these hormones differently. (Progestin-only pills, also known as minipills, don’t contain estrogen.)

The pill is taken orally each day and the patch is applied to your skin once each week. When used correctly, they are equally effective at preventing pregnancy.

The patch vs. IUDs

Progestin IUD

A progestin intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, plastic T-shaped device that prevents fertilization of the egg. The device is inserted into your uterus by your doctor and, depending on the type you choose, it can prevent pregnancy for 3 to 7 years.

This birth control option is convenient and also highly effective. Fewer than one in 100 progestin IUD users will become pregnant. You may experience spotting between periods or irregular bleeding, especially during the first 3 to 6 months.

Copper IUD

The copper, non-hormonal IUD (also known as ParaGard) is also inserted into your uterus by a doctor. But it uses copper instead of hormones to prevent fertilization.

Menstrual periods may be heavier and last longer, and cramps may be stronger, compared with other birth control methods. The copper IUD is also highly effective, as fewer than one in 100 non-hormonal IUD users will become pregnant.

A copper IUD can last up to 10 years. If you’d prefer to have a low-maintenance form of birth control that you don’t have to think about replacing, the IUD may be a good option.

The patch vs. the vaginal ring

The vaginal ring is inserted into the vagina and left in place for 3 continuous weeks. You then remove the ring during the fourth week. At the start of the new month, you insert a new ring. It can stay in place during sex.

The ring contains the same hormones, estrogen and progestin, as combination birth control pills and the patch to prevent ovulation.

It’s also highly effective, as fewer than one in 100 people will become pregnant when using the ring as directed. The ring may also result in lighter periods and less cramping.

The patch vs. the implant

A contraceptive implant is a type of hormonal birth control.

A very small plastic rod, about the size of a matchstick, is inserted just under the skin in the upper arm by a doctor. The implant slowly releases a progestin hormone called etonogestrel into the body. It’s invisible once implanted and is effective for 3 years.

The patch vs. the sponge

The contraceptive sponge, or birth control sponge, is a soft, round piece of plastic foam with a loop for removal. It doesn’t contain any hormones. The sponge is filled with a spermicide known as nonoxynol-9. You insert it deep into your vagina before having sex to prevent pregnancy. It’s available over the counter in many drugstores.

Using the sponge takes a little more time and preparation than other forms of birth control. You can insert it up to 24 hours before sex, but you shouldn’t keep it in for more than 30 hours. You can also have sex multiple times with the sponge.

The birth control patch is a safe and effective form of birth control that requires weekly attention.

There are many options when it comes to choosing a form of pregnancy prevention. If you think the birth control patch may be right for you, talk with your doctor to learn more.