Patch for Birth Control: Care Instructions

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Person wearing birth control patch on upper arm.


The patch is used to prevent pregnancy. It looks like a bandage. It gives you a regular dose of the hormones estrogen and progestin.

The patch comes in packs of three. You change the patch once a week for 3 weeks and then go without a patch for 1 week. During this week, you have your period. One pack provides birth control for 1 month. You may use the patch continuously, without stopping for a week each month. With this method, you won't have your period.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

How do you use the patch?

  • Talk to your doctor about the best day to start using the patch. Ask if you will need to use backup birth control, such as a condom, or avoid intercourse for a period of time.
  • Always follow the directions that came with the patch. In general:
    • Use the patch 3 out of 4 weeks. Put on a new patch every week on the same day of the week. The 4th week, don't wear a patch. You'll have your period. If you're using the patch continuously, put on a new patch every week, without skipping a week each month. Do this on the same day every week.
    • Put the patch on your lower belly, buttocks, or upper body. Don't put it on your breasts.
    • Don't put lotions, oils, powders, or makeup on the area where you're going to put the patch. They could keep the patch from sticking.
    • Try not to place the patch under bra straps.

What if you forget a patch or it falls off?

Always read the label for specific instructions, or call your doctor. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • In the first week, if you forget a patch or are late, put on a patch right away and:
    • Use backup birth control, such as a condom, or don't have intercourse for 7 days.
    • If you had intercourse, you can use emergency contraception as a way to prevent pregnancy. The most effective emergency contraception is an IUD (inserted by a doctor). You can also get emergency contraceptive pills. You can get them with a prescription from your doctor or without a prescription at most drugstores.
  • In the second and third weeks:
    • If you are less than 48 hours late, put on a new patch right away. You don't need backup birth control or emergency contraception.
    • If you are late by 48 hours or more, put on a new patch right away. Use backup birth control or don't have intercourse for 7 days. If you had intercourse, you can use emergency contraception.
  • If a patch doesn't stick well or falls off:
    • For less than 48 hours, put it back on. If it doesn't stick well, use a new patch.
    • For 48 hours or more, put on a new patch right away. Use backup birth control or don't have intercourse for 7 days. If you had intercourse, ask your doctor about using emergency contraception.

What else do you need to know?

  • The patch can have side effects.
    • You may have very light or skipped periods.
    • You may have bleeding between periods (spotting). This usually decreases after 3 to 4 months. If you're using the patch continuously, you won't have periods. But you may still have breakthrough bleeding. Talk to your doctor if you have problems with breakthrough bleeding. Even if you have this bleeding, the patch should still work well.
    • You may have mood changes, less interest in sex, or weight gain.
  • Avoid exposing the patch to heat. This includes direct sunlight and using tanning beds, heating pads, electric blankets, hot tubs, or saunas. Direct sunlight or high heat changes how the patch releases hormones. This makes the chance of getting pregnant more likely.
  • To help remember to put a new patch on:
    • Circle on a calendar the days you need to change the patch.
    • Set up a reminder using your computer or other similar device.
  • Check with your doctor before you use any other medicines, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbal products, and supplements. Birth control hormones may not work as well to prevent pregnancy when combined with other medicines.
  • The patch doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or HIV/AIDS. If you're not sure whether your sex partner or partners might have an STI, use a condom to help protect against disease.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe belly pain.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
  • You have blurred vision or other problems seeing.
  • You have a severe headache.
  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You think you might be pregnant.
  • You think you may be depressed.
  • You think you may have been exposed to or have a sexually transmitted infection.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.