At a glance; facts about the patch
- The contraceptive patch has been found to be more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when it is used the right way
- Each patch used, is effective only for a week. It is changed weekly for 3 weeks and then a short 7 days (one week) break is taken, after which it is continued for another 3 weeks.
- It saves you the stress of thinking about it daily and remains effective even while you are sick or have diarrhoea.
- It is water-resistant and so it can be worn while having a bath, a swim or whilst playing any sports.
- It may cause your monthly periods to be lighter and less painful.
- It may cause minor but temporary side effects such as headaches and can also cause you blood pressure to rise.
- Although rare, a few women may develop a blood clot during their use of the patch.
- The patch may offer you some level of protection against ovarian and bowel cancer.
- It is not recommended for women who are a smoker and are 35 years old or older or women who weigh up to 90kg or more.
- The patch does not offer you protection against STIs-sexually transmitted infections and so you may need to make use of extra contraception such as condoms.
How it works
The contraceptive patch acts by slowly releasing daily doses of some hormones through your skin and into your blood in other to prevent pregnancy.
Just as the combined pills, it contains artificial forms of estrogen and progestogen and also produces the same effect by preventing the monthly release of an ovum or egg from your ovaries.
It also causes the cervical mucus secretion to become thicker, thereby stiffening the movement of the sperm through the cervix and it womb mucosal lining to become thinner in other prevent the fertilized egg or ovum from getting implanted.
How to use the patch
Fix your new patch and leave it on for 7 days, by the 8th day take it off and put on another one. Make sure you repeat this process every week for 3 weeks and then take a one week patch free break.
During this patch-free week, you will experience a withdrawal-bleed that is period like. However it is not bound to happen every time you take your 7 days break.
Make sure a new patch is applied, when the 7 patch-free days are over and then begin this 4 week (28 days) cycle again. Make sure you start the new cycle, regardless the bleed.
Where to put the patch
The sticky part of the patch should be placed directly on your skin. It can be placed in almost every part of your skin, given it is dry, clean and not too hairy. The patch should not be fixed on.
- Any sore or irritated part of your skin.
- Your breasts
- Any part of your body where it may be affected by tight clothes.
It’s advisable to frequently change the location of the patch (when replacing it) in other to reduce the risk of developing an irritation on your skin.
When the patch starts to work?
If the patch is placed within the first five days of your period, it would proffer you with complete and immediate protection against pregnancy.
If the patch is placed on any day other than the first five days, you will need to make use of extra contraception such as condoms, for at least 7 days.
For women who have a short monthly menstrual cycle with their periods beginning on the 23rd day or less of their cycle, placing the patch on the 5th day of their period or later than this will imply that, they would not be offered any protection against pregnancy and there may be need to make use of extra contraception for at least 7 days.
To find out when the contraceptive patch will begin to work and whether you will need to make use of extra contraceptives.
What to do if the contraceptive patch falls off
The patch hardly comes off as it is very firm and sticky. It should remain stuck to your skin even after a swim, hot tub, shower, sauna or bath.
However, if the patch comes off, the actions you would take is dependent on how long it’s been off and how many days it stayed on, before it fell off
If it has been off your skin for less than 2 days (48 hours):
- If it’s still sticky enough, stick it back as soon as you notice.
- If it isn’t sticky enough, place a new patch on your skin-don’t try to keep the older patch in place with a plaster or bandage.
- Continue with the normal process or cycle.
- You will not need to make use of extra contraceptives because you would still be protected if the patch was left on for the previous 7 days.
- However, if the patch came off after you have used it for 6 days or less; you will need to make use of extra contraceptives such as condoms for at least 7 days.
If the patch has been off for up to 2 days (48 hours) or more or for an inestimable time then you should;
- Place a new patch and begin your cycle again- it will become your day one for the newly started cycle.
- Make use of extra contraceptives such as condoms for at least 7 days.
- Ensure you consult your doctor or nurse, if you have recently had unprotected sex because you may need to take the emergency contraception.
What to do if you forget to take the contraceptive patch off
If at any point during the cycle after week one or two, you forget to take off and replace the old patch, the actions you would need to take will be dependent on the duration for which it’s been left on (beyond the normal time).
If it is removed within 2 days (48 hours) or less-between 8 to 9 days, you should;
- Remove the old contraceptive patch and fix a new one.
- Continue with your normal cycle or the usual process.
- You will not require any extra contraceptives to protect you from pregnancy.
If it has been left in place for over 48 hours or more than the recommended time (10 days or more) then you should:
- Place a new contraceptive patch immediately
- Begin your cycle from the scratch- day 1 and week 1, your start and stop day changes.
- Make use of extra contraceptives such as condoms for 7 days.
- Consult your GP or nurse for professional advice, if you have had unprotected sex recently because you may need to make use of emergency contraception.
If the patch is left on for up to the 4th week (that is, after the 3rd week), remove it immediately you remember. Afterwards, start your patch-free break and then put on a new contraceptive patch on the usual starting day whether you are bleeding or not. This implies that you may not be able to get your normal 7 patch-free days break.
You will not need to make use of extra contraception as you will remain protected from pregnancy. During your patch-free days, you may or may not experience any bleeding.
What to do if you forget to put a contraceptive patch on after the patch-free week
Place a new patch immediately you remember. The day you fix the new patch becomes the start of a new patch cycle. Meaning, your start and change day will be changed.
If the patch is placed with 48 hours (2 days after the 7-day interval-9 days), then you will still have protection from pregnancy as long as the contraceptive was properly used before the patch free week.
If it is placed after 48 hours of the appointed time or day-10 days or more, then you will need to make use of extra contraception as you will no longer be protected from pregnancy. The extra contraception could be condoms or any other and should be used for a period of 7 days. You may also need to seek advice from your GP or nurse, if you have had unprotected sex in the course of the patch-free interval, as you may need to make use of the emergency contraception.
Bleeding in the patch-free week
Not all women experience the period-type bleeding during every patch-free week. If you don’t experience the bleed, there should be no cause for alarm as long as you have been using the patch correctly and you are not any medication that can alter the effectiveness of the patch.
However, if you are worried or think you might be pregnant, see your GP or nurse or go get a pregnancy test done to see if you are pregnant. Also, if you two bleeds in a roll during your patch-free week, you may also need to consult your GP or nurse.
Who can use the patch?
The contraceptive patch is not recommended for all women, but can be used by most. If you would like to make use of the contraceptive patch, your GP or nurse will have to ask you a series of questions about your health, family history, surgeries you may have had and medications you are currently taking.
It may not be recommended for your use if:
- You are pregnant or think you are
- You are a breastfeeding mother with a baby that is less than 6 months old
- You are a smoker that is 35 years old or older
- You 35 or older and have quit smoking recently (within a year-less than one year).
- You have a high BMI-overweight
- You are on certain medications such as St John’s Wort, certain antibiotics, medicines used in the treatment of HIV, epilepsy and tuberculosis.
It may not be recommended for you also if you have or have had:
- Blood clot(s) in any vessel-vein or artery or a family history of blood clots before the age of 45
- Any heart condition that had or has an effect on your circulatory system.
- Cancer of the breast
- SLE- systemic lupus erythematosus
- Severe migraine that usually comes with warning signs
- Liver or gallbladder conditions
- Diabetes with accompanying complications
- It is simple to use and doesn’t disrupt the flow of sex
- In contract to the combined pill, you only have to think about changing it weekly.
- Its effectiveness remains the same even while you are sick(vomit) or have diarrhea
- It may cause you periods to become lighter and/or less painful
- It reduces premenstrual symptoms
- It may improve health by reducing the risk of developing ovarian, uterine (womb) and bowel cancer
- It may also reduce your risk of developing certain conditions such as ovarian cysts, fibroids and non-cancerous breast conditions.
- Its visibility might be a problem to you
- Constant use could result in skin irritation, itching and sores.
- It proffers no protection against STIs, therefore you may need to make use of condoms
- It may cause minor side effects in some women (at first use) such as headaches, nausea and/or vomiting, breast tenderness and mood changes. However, these side effects are usually temporary and subside after a few months.
- During first few months of use, you may experience bleeding in between your monthly periods (breakthrough bleeding) and/or spotting (which is unusually light and irregular bleeding)- this shouldn’t cause you to worry, given you are using the patch correctly as you will still be protected from pregnancy.
- Certain medications can alter its effectiveness making it less effective- to know which medications can do this; see your GP, nurse or pharmacist.
- Remembering to change the patch weekly might not be convenient for you. If you would like to make use of something that will last longer, you can consider some other forms of contraceptives such as the implant or IUDs (intrauterine device)
Risk of using the patch
While using the hormone-based contraception such as the contraceptive patch, there’s a minor risk of developing serious side effects.
Nevertheless, for the majority of women who make us e of the patch, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. You need to discuss all associated risks and benefits with you GP or nurse before deciding if you would like to use it.
Out of the numerous women who make use of the contraceptive patch, only a few of them may develop a blood clot (thrombosis) within a blood vessel- artery or vein. You will be advised against using the patch, if you have had a blood clot previously.
Your risk of developing a clot will be higher if.
- You smoke
- You have a high BMI- highly overweight
- It is your first time using a contraceptive patch
- You have been immobile for a while or you use wheelchair
- You have or have had severe varicose veins
- You have diabetes
- You have severe migraines with aura
- You have a Family history of heart attack, stroke or blood clot before the age of 45
Where you can get it
When getting the contraceptive patch for the first time, you will be handed a 3-month supply, to see if you are able to use it properly and without any discomfort or serious side effects. If at the end of the 3 months use, you experience no issues, a 6 to 12 months prescription can be given to you.
You can always get access to contraception at no cost; regardless of your age (even under 16). You can get from:
- All community contraception clinics
- Certain Genitourinary (GUM) clinics.
- Sexual health clinics
- Young people services
You can find the sexual health clinic closest to you here.