The birth control patch is easy: just put on a patch once a week. Here’s the info you need on how to use the patch, when it starts working, and what to do if you forget to change your patch.

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How do I use the birth control patch?

Using the birth control patch is easy: just stick a new patch to clean, dry skin on your belly, upper outer arm, buttocks (butt cheeks), or back — but NOT your breast. Wear the patch for 1 week (7 days), then take off the patch and put on a new one. Change your patch once a week for 3 weeks straight.

Don’t wear a patch during the fourth week — that’s when you’ll get your period. After 7 patch-free days, put on a new patch again. It’s really important to put your new patch on right after your patch-free week, or you’ll be at risk for pregnancy. It’s okay if you’re still bleeding or spotting when it’s time to put on a new patch (that’s normal). If you want to stop having periods or skip a period, you can skip the patch-free week, and simply start a new month of patches.

Be sure to put on a new patch on the same day every week — this will be your “patch change day.” If you start on a Monday, then Mondays are always the day you take off your old patch/put on a new one. Don’t wear the same patch longer than a week.

To put on the patch, open the pouch by tearing along the top and side, then peel the foil open to make it flat. Take the patch and plastic layer off the foil and peel half of the clear layer of plastic away from the patch.

Try not to touch the sticky part with your fingers, and place that sticky half on your belly, upper outer arm, buttocks (butt cheeks), or back. Remove the other half of the plastic and press the whole patch to your skin. Hold it in place with the palm of your hand for 10 seconds.

Always put the patch on clean, dry skin, and don’t use lotion, oils powder, or makeup on the skin where you put your patch — they could keep the patch from sticking. Check your patch every day to make sure it’s sticking and in place.

When you take your old patch off, fold it in half so it sticks together, seal it in a plastic bag, and throw it in the trash — don’t flush it down the toilet. (You’ll be helping out the environment if you follow these directions because it helps keep whatever hormones are left in the patch from getting into the soil and water.)

Store your patches at room temperature away from the sunlight, and don’t refrigerate them or put them in the freezer. Keep them sealed in their pouches until you use them. Once you open a pouch, put the patch on immediately.

How do I start using the birth control patch?

You can begin using the patch any day of the month. However, when you start the patch could affect whether or not you need to use a backup birth control method (like condoms) for the first 7 days.

You can start using the patch at any time during your cycle.  

If you start using it during the first 5 days of your period, it will work right away and you won’t need backup birth control. So if your period starts on Wednesday morning, you have until Sunday morning to put on a patch and be protected from pregnancy right away.

If you start the patch on any other day of your cycle, it takes 7 days to be protected from pregnancy. So for the first week, use a condom or female condom if you have vaginal sex.

Talk with your nurse or doctor about the best time for you to start using the patch.

What do I do if I decide I want to get pregnant?

If you decide you want to get pregnant, just take off your patch. That’s it; you’re ready to try to get pregnant.

It may take your period a couple of months to go back to the cycle you had before you started using the patch. But even if you don’t have your period yet, you might still get pregnant.

What is my patch falls off?

It shouldn’t happen often, but sometimes the patch might get loose or fall off. But don’t freak out — you can still prevent pregnancy. Here’s what to do:

  • If the patch got loose or fell off and it has been less than 2 days, put the patch back on. If it won’t stick or you don’t have it, put on a new patch right away. Your patch change day will stay the same. You’ll still be protected from pregnancy.

  • If the patch got loose or fell off and it has been more than 2 days (or you don’t know how long it’s been off), start a new, 4-week cycle by putting on a new patch right away. This is your new patch change day from now on. For the next 7 days, use a condom or female condom to prevent pregnancy if you have vaginal sex. Use our app to find out more about what to do after a patch oopsie and to find out if you might need emergency contraception.

What do I do if I don’t change my patch on time?

If you make a patch mistake, we’ve got a cool app that can help you figure out what to do.

If you’d rather just read about it, here are the basics:

If you forgot to put on a new patch at the end of your patch-free week

Put on the first patch of your next month’s patches as soon as you remember. This becomes your new patch change day from now on. For the next 7 days, use a condom or female condom to prevent pregnancy if you have vaginal sex. Use our app to find out more about what to do after a patch oopsie and to find out if you might need emergency contraception.

If you forgot to change to your third patch (less than 48 hours since you should’ve changed it)

Put on a new patch as soon as you remember. Take it off on your normal patch change day. Your patch change day will stay the same as it was.

If you forgot to change to your third patch (more than 48 hours since you should’ve changed it)

Put on a new patch as soon as you remember. This starts a new, 4-week cycle. This will be your new patch change day from now on. For the next 7 days, use a condom or female condom to prevent pregnancy if you have vaginal sex. Use our app to find out more about what to do after a patch oopsie and to find out if you might need emergency contraception.

If you forgot to take off your third and last patch for the month

Just take the patch off as soon as you remember. Start your next month on your normal patch day. This means you’ll have fewer days without a patch on that month.

If you had sex since you made a mistake with the patch, you might want to take emergency contraception. Use our app to find out if that’s an option for you.

What should I expect while using the patch?

You may notice some birth control patch side effects at first, but they usually go away in 2-3 months.

Some people have headaches, nausea, sore breasts, or spotting (light bleeding or brown discharge) between periods after starting the patch. This stuff usually clears up after a couple of months.

If you still don’t like the way the patch makes you feel after a few months, talk with your nurse or doctor. They may suggest another kind of birth control. Some people try a few different methods before finding the right one for them.

Using the patch may change your period — it can make it lighter, shorter, and more regular. If you miss your period while you’re on the patch, it doesn’t mean for sure that you’re pregnant. The chance of pregnancy is very low if you’ve been using your patch correctly, but you can always take a pregnancy test just to be sure.

Remember, you can always call your doctor or a Planned Parenthood health center if you have any concerns while using the patch. They’re there to help.

The Patch

  • 91% effective

  • Costs up to $80, but can be $0

  • Prescription required

  • Change it once a week

The patch doesn’t protect you from STDs. Use a condom with your patch to help stop pregnancy and STDs.
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