Here are some key facts:
Pregnancy happens when sperm reaches an egg and fertilises it. The patch works in three ways to interrupt this process:
If used correctly, the patch is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that less than one woman in 100 will get pregnant in a year.
The contraceptive patch is available free of charge from a range of services including contraceptive clinics, your GP and Brook. Find your nearest using our find a service tool.
When you go to get the patch, an appointment will typically include:
You will not be required to have an internal or breast examination for the patch.
When you first start the patch you will usually be given a three month supply. Follow up appointments and reviews can be up to every 12 months providing there are no issues. You can return to the clinic at any time if you are worried about anything. If you wish to change to a different method, talk to your doctor or nurse as you may need to miss out the patch-free week or use additional contraception.
Contraception and sexual health services such as Brook are free and confidential, including for people under the age of 16. Health professionals work to strict guidelines and won’t tell anyone else about your visit unless they believe you're at serious risk of immediate harm. Find out more about Brook’s confidentiality policy.
The patch is worn continuously for seven days, on the eighth day it should be changed, by removing it, throwing it away carefully using the disposal sachet provided and immediately putting a new one on. The patch should be changed every week for three weeks (21 days).
After three weeks you don't wear a patch for seven days. Most women have a bleed at some point during the seven-day break. After the break, you should apply a new patch and start the four-week patch cycle again. You should apply the new patch even if you are still bleeding.
Where you can wear the patch
Patches can be worn discreetly on most areas of the body, including the upper arm, shoulder or buttocks, but should not be applied to the breasts or to broken or irritated skin.
You should avoid placing the patch anywhere that may be rubbed by tight clothing, and change the position of each patch to help reduce the chance of skin irritation. You should also avoid covering the patch with body cream or lotions, as these may cause it to become loose.
Any medication can have some side effects and a very small number of women may develop complications, but discussing you and your family’s medical history with the doctor or nurse will help reduce the risk of negative side effects.
For most women the benefits will outweigh the possible risks. Disadvantages can include:
You can start the patch at any time in your menstrual cycle. If you put the first one on in the first five days of your period, you will be protected against pregnancy straight away.
If you start using it after day five of your period, you need to use a barrier method of contraception (such as condoms) for the first seven days.
If you have a short menstrual cycle, where your period normally comes every 23 days or less, starting the patch on the fifth day of your period may mean you are not immediately protected (because you might ovulate early in your menstrual cycle). If you think this might be the case, speak with a doctor or nurse about whether you need to use additional contraception, such as condoms.
The patch should stay on as it is very sticky. However, if it does fall off, what you need to do depends on how long it has been off.
This depends on where you are in the four-week patch cycle, and how long you have forgotten to take the patch off or put on a new one.
At some point during your patch-free week most women will have a bleed. This is called a 'withdrawal bleed' (which doesn’t always happen) and it can start at any point during the seven-day break. This bleeding is brought on by the reduction in hormones, from not wearing a patch during the seven-day break.
This can happen at any point during this patch-free week, and you should start using your next patch on time whether or not you are still bleeding.
In the first few months of using the patch there can be some breakthrough bleeding or spotting. This should settle down after around three months and it is important to continue using the patch correctly.
Some people do this when they want to put off bleeding, for example if they are going on holiday. You can miss out the patch-free week by using another patch straight away. This isn’t harmful and you will still be protected against pregnancy. Sometimes you will still get bleeding.
Maybe you want to get pregnant or perhaps you’d like to use a form of long acting reversible contraception (LARC) that doesn’t involve changing a patch every week. Here's what happens when you stop using the contraceptive patch.
How quickly the hormones leave your system: the hormones from the patch will usually leave your body within a couple of days - no matter how long you have been using the patch for.
How quickly you can get pregnant: this will vary, and will depend on when ovulation (releasing an egg) starts up again. For some people, it may be a matter of days or weeks, for others it may take up to three months. But generally speaking, fertility levels should return quite rapidly, so it’s important to use another method of contraception if you don’t want to get pregnant.
What happens to your periods: if you find you have irregular periods after stopping using the patch and are worried, or if it's taking a long time for your periods to start again, you can ask your doctor or nurse for advice.
What physical changes there might be: everyone reacts slightly differently when they stop using the patch. Some people may find they have skin problems initially, although as your hormone levels self-regulate over the course of a few weeks or months, symptoms may subside once again. If symptoms persist or worsen please see your doctor or nurse for help and advice.
If you stop using the patch but don't want to become pregnant remember to use another method of contraception.
You can start to use the patch from 21 days after giving birth. If you start on day 21 you will be protected from pregnancy straight away. If you start after 21 days you will need to use additional contraception for seven days. If you are breastfeeding a baby under six months old a different method of contraception is usually recommended as the patch can reduce your flow of milk.
You can start using the patch immediately after a miscarriage or abortion and you will be protected from pregnancy immediately.
Last review: August 2017
Next review: August 2019