The contraceptive patch
What is the contraceptive patch?
The contraceptive patch is a 5cm square sticky skin patch with the same hormones as many birth control pills - oestrogen and progestogen. It looks a bit like a nicotine patch people use to help quit smoking.
Women can wear this patch on the buttocks, abdomen, upper torso (but not the breasts), or the outer part of the upper arm. It should not be stuck to skin that is red, irritated, or cut, or skin where make-up, creams or powder is applied.
How does the contraceptive patch work?
The brand of patch used by the NHS is Evra.
Continuous amounts of oestrogen and progestogen are absorbed through the skin and into the blood stream to prevent pregnancy.
A new patch is applied - and the old one removed - once a week for 3 weeks. The fourth week is then patch-free to allow a period to happen.
Patch use then begins after the 7 patch-free days.
Your doctor or family planning clinic will explain how to use it.
When starting with the patch for the first time, if it is used on the first day of your period – or during the first 5 days of your menstrual cycle - it should begin protecting against pregnancy straight away and no additional contraception is needed.
Extra contraception will be needed for 7 days if the patch is started at other times.
What are some of the pros and cons of the patch?
Different contraception types will be preferred over others by some women.
- Relatively easy to use and reliable
- Not affected by being sick or having diarrhoea
- Less period pain
- Regular periods
- Lighter periods
- May reduce the risk of fibroids and some cancers.
- It may be noticeable depending on where you stick it and what you wear
- Possible skin irritation
- Temporary side-effects are possible when starting with the patch
- Some bleeding between periods when starting with the patch
- May be affected by some medications – always seek medical advice to check
- Slightly higher risk of blood clots.
What if the patch falls off?
The patch should be sticky enough to stay on during baths, showers or swimming.
If it does come off, stick it back on as soon as possible. If it isn't sticky enough, use a new patch.
If the patch does fall off, pregnancy protection will depend on when in the menstrual cycle it came off. You may need extra contraception temporarily. Seek medical advice if you are concerned.
How effective is the contraceptive patch?
The contraceptive patch is more than 99% effective when used correctly.