One of the lesser known pregnancy prevention products available is called the birth control patch. The birth control patch is a thin, beige square patch that sticks to the skin. By releasing hormones through the skin into the bloodstream, this birth control method would help prevent pregnancy. By combining the hormones called progesterone and estrogen, the patch prevents ovulation or the release of an egg from the ovaries during a woman's monthly menstruation. The hormones in the patch also thickens the mucus produced in the cervix, making it difficult for sperm to enter and reach any eggs that may have been released.

Similar to other forms of birth control such as the birth control pill or ring, the user works on the birth control patch based on her menstrual cycle. Normally, the girl puts the patch on the first day of her menstrual cycle, or the first Sunday after her cycle begins. She will then place the patch on her skin once a week for three weeks straight. This patch should be applied to either of the following: buttocks, abdomen, upper arm, or upper torso. On its fourth week, no patch is worn, and the user's period will then start again during this time.

Birth Control Patch

What is the birth control patch?

The transdermal contraceptive patch is a safe, simple, and affordable birth control method that you wear on the skin of your belly, upper arm, butt, or back. Put a new patch on every week for 3 weeks, and it releases hormones that prevent pregnancy. Then you get a week off before you repeat the cycle.

How Does the Contraceptive Patch Prevent Pregnancy?

The patch releases hormones, just like other birth control methods.

These hormones are chemicals that control different parts of the body, helping to prevent women from becoming pregnant.

How does the birth control patch work?

The birth control patch prevents pregnancy by stopping sperm from meeting an egg (which is called fertilization). Like most birth control pills, the patch contains the hormones estrogen and progestin, which are similar to hormones our bodies make naturally. You wear the patch on certain parts of your body, and the hormones are absorbed through your skin.

The patch stops your ovaries from releasing eggs (called ovulation). No ovulation means there’s no egg hanging around for sperm to fertilize, so pregnancy can’t happen.

The patch’s hormones also thicken the mucus on your cervix. Thicker cervical mucus makes it hard for sperm to swim to an egg — kind of like a sticky security guard.

Does the patch protect against STDs?

Nope. While the patch is really good at preventing pregnancy, it won’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections.

Luckily, using condoms every time you have sex really lowers your chances of getting or spreading STDs. The other great thing about condoms is that they also protect against pregnancy, which means that using condoms + the birth control patch gives you awesome pregnancy-preventing power.

How do I make the patch work best for me?

To get the patch’s full birth control powers, you’ve got to use it correctly. Here are some tips to help you stay on schedule and remember when it’s time to put on a new patch:

  • Use reminder apps or set a weekly alarm on your phone.
  • Note your patch change days on your calendar.
  • Friends or family members who also use the patch can be your patch buddies, and you can remind each other.
  • Your partner can help remind you.
  • Keep your replacement patches in the same place so you don’t lose them.
  • Store your patches at room temperature, and away from direct sunlight. Don’t store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Keep each patch sealed in its pouch until right before you put it on.

How do I put on the birth control patch?

Birth Control Patch vs Birth Control Pills

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. Each pack will have 3 weekly patches in it. Change your patch once a week for 3 weeks straight.

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. The patch is made to stay in place while swimming, sweating, or in a jacuzzi, bathtub, or sauna. Check your patch every day to make sure it is sticking.

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 use the birth control patch if I want to get periods?

If you want to get periods, 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).

What are the Benefits of the Patch?

The Birth Control Patch is easy and safe to use. It does not have to be adjusted or taken daily (like birth control pills). It’s pain-free and very low maintenance. Also, it’s one of the more convenient methods, since you can apply it yourself and don’t need to schedule a doctors appointment.

In addition, some women report more regular, lighter, and shorter periods while using the patch.

The patch also helps to protect against:

  • Acne
  • Headaches/depressions
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Iron deficiency
  • Bone thinning
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Breasts growths (not cancer)
  • Cysts located in breasts and ovaries
  • Infection found in the uterus, tubes and ovaries
  • Ovarian and endometrial cancers
  • Ectopic pregnancy

What are the Side Effects of the Patch?

Some women may experience some undesirable side effects from using the patch. However, most women adjust to the patch within a few months of using it. This is similar with other forms of birth control too.

The most common side effects of the patch include:

  • vomiting and nausea
  • tender breasts
  • bleeding between periods

It is also possible that the patch may cause a woman’s sexual desire to decrease over time because the patch affects her hormones.

In addition, the skin may become irritated or have a reaction to where the patch is placed on the body.

Once a woman stops using the patch it can take one or two months for the period cycle to get back to normal.

Serious Effects of the Birth Control Patch

More serious side effects have warning signs. If you experience any of the issues below, contact your health care provider immediately:

  • trouble breathing
  • sore legs
  • very bad headaches that come on suddenly
  • unusual headaches that happen more often or are worse than normal
  • yellowing of eyes or skin
  • serious chest or abdomen pain
  • no period after having a period regularly
  • seeing bright, flashing zigzag lines (usually before a bad headache)

Sidenote on the Birth Control Patch

Few years back, the sales of birth control patches dipped after a legal complaint was made by a group of 40 women, all of which used a popular birth control patch, directly to the patch's manufacturer. They claimed that these contraceptives were causing serious health problems. One specific lawsuit claimed that 43 women suffered from blood clots and other ailments after taking a popular branded birth control patch. A second lawsuit stated that a woman of 25 died of severe blood clots in her lungs and legs after she began using this birth control product.

These lawsuits complained that the manufacturer of this birth control patch allegedly failed to warn the public about the risks of using the said product. The plaintiff also claimed that the company deceived the public about the severity of potential side effects, and that includes concealing information about the risk of strokes and severe blood clots. Shawn Khorrami, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said that this product should not be on the market. When a certain product is put out, giving women more hormones than they need, then you are increasing their risk of developing those ailments. Khorrami also added that similar lawsuits have been filed on behalf of nearly 400 women around the US.

The FDA warned women regarding the risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs and their use of birth control patches. As a result of the warning, the product label was updated to reflect the data of one study that found women using the patch faced twice the risk of clots than did women on the pill. From this information, women should be careful in choosing their form of birth control. It is advisable for them to go and visit their gynecologist or physician, and try to gather facts about their health history, and choose the best birth control that will suit both their health and lifestyle.

Remember: 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.

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