The contraceptive patch is a small 5cm by 5cm patch that is applied to the skin like a plaster. It prevents pregnancy by releasing oestrogen and progestogen through the skin.

When used correctly it is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

How it works

How to use it

Stick the contraceptive patch to clean dry skin that will not rub against tight clothing. Change the patch every week for three weeks, then have a week without a patch to have a period/withdrawal bleed.

What it does

The hormones released by the patch prevent pregnancy by:

  • Preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation).
  • Thickening the mucus in the neck of the womb, so it is harder for sperm to penetrate the womb and reach an egg.
  • Thinning the lining of the womb, so there is less chance of a fertilised egg implanting into the womb.

Pros and Cons


  • It doesn’t interrupt sex.
  • You only have to replace the patch once a week.
  • The patch is not affected by diarrhoea or vomiting because the hormones don’t need to be absorbed by the stomach.
  • There is no evidence that it causes additional weight gain.
  • It can help make bleeds lighter and more regular, and reduce period pains.
  • It may also help to reduce premenstrual symptoms (PMS).
  • It can improve acne in some people.
  • The patch can also have additional health benefits, such as reducing the risk of some cancers.


  • Temporary side effects during the first few months include headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, mood swings and changes to libido.
  • In the first few months of use there can be breakthrough bleeding and spotting.
  • It doesn’t protect you against STIs.
  • It can cause skin irritation for some people.
  • It can be seen.
  • Some medicines can reduce the effectiveness of the patch, such as those used to treat epilepsy, HIV and TB and the complementary medicine St John’s Wort.


Who is the patch suitable for?

Most people can use the patch, but your GP or clinician will ask about your family and medical history to determine whether or not the patch is the best method for you. The patch is not suitable for people who:

  • Are pregnant
  • Are breastfeeding
  • Weigh over 14 stone
  • Are taking certain medications - ask your GP
  • Smoke (or stopped smoking less than a year ago) and are 35 or older
  • Are over 45 years old
  • Have or have had a heart abnormality or heart disease or stroke
  • Have a blood clot in a blood vessel (thrombosis)
  • Have or have had migraines
  • Have or have had diabetes for more than 20 years or have complications from diabetes
  • Have or have had disease in the gallbladder or liver
  • Are immobile for long periods of time or use a wheelchair
  • Have systemic lupus erythematosus

Does the patch cause weight gain?

Research has not shown that the patch causes weight gain. Some people may find their weight changes throughout their cycle due to fluid retention. The patch may increase your appetite but should settle over the first few months.

Can I miss out the patch-free week?

Some people do this when they want to put off bleeding, for example if they are going on holiday or want to have sex. 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.

How quickly does the patch start to protect me against pregnancy?

If you start using the patch within the first five days of your cycle, then you will be protected from pregnancy from that day. If you start at any other time then you should use additional contraception for 7 days.

What do I do if the patch comes off?

If the patch has been off for less than 48 hours: Stick your patch back on as soon as possible (if it is still sticky) If it is not sticky, replace it with a new patch (do not try to hold the old patch in place with a plaster or bandage) Continue to use your patch as normal and change your patch on your normal change day.

If the patch has been off for less than 48 hours before you replace it, you will still be protected against pregnancy as long as the patch was on properly for 7 days before the patch came off. If this is the case, you do not need to use additional contraception. If you have had a patch on for six days or less before it falls off, you may not be protected against pregnancy and should use additional contraception, such as condoms, for 7 days.

If the patch has been off for 48 hours or more, or you're not sure how long it has been off:

  • Apply a new patch as soon as possible and start a new patch cycle (this will now be day one of your new cycle).
  • Use another form of contraception, such as condoms, for the next 7 days. If you had unprotected sex in the previous few days, you may need emergency contraception.

Can I use the patch after having a baby/while breastfeeding?

If you have just had a baby and are not breastfeeding, you can start the patch on day 21 after the birth. You will be protected against pregnancy straight away. If you start the patch later than 21 days after giving birth, you will need additional contraception (such as condoms) for the next seven days.

If you are breastfeeding a baby less than six months old, using the patch can reduce your flow of milk. It is recommended that you use a different method of contraception until you stop breastfeeding.

What do I do if I forget to take the patch off?

The patch will not release sufficient hormone to continue to protect you from pregnancy after 7 days so you should consider emergency contraception if you have had unprotected sex during this time.

What can make the patch less effective?

Medicines used to treat epilepsy, HIV and TB, other antibiotics and the herbal medicine St John’s Wort can lessen the effectiveness. Ask your GP, clinician or pharmacist and read the information that comes with your medicine. Always tell your doctor that you are using a patch if you are prescribed any medicines.

What should I expect if I go to get the contraceptive patch?

When you first start using the patch you will usually be given three months' supply to see how it suits you. After that you should go back to the doctor or nurse to get new supplies and to have your blood pressure checked.

If there are no problems, you can be given up to one year’s supply of patches.

What are the possible long term side effects of using the patch?

There is a small increased risk of some serious health conditions, such as breast cancer, which reduces with time after stopping the patch.

A very small number of people may develop venous thrombosis, arterial thrombosis, heart attack or stroke. If you have ever had a thrombosis, you should not use the patch.

See a doctor straightaway if you have any of the following:

  • Pain in the chest, including any sharp pain which is worse when you breathe in
  • Breathlessness
  • You cough up blood
  • Painful swelling in your leg(s)
  • Weakness, numbness or bad ‘pins and needles’ in an arm or leg
  • Severe stomach pains
  • A bad fainting attack or you collapse
  • Unusual headache or migraines that are worse than usual
  • Sudden problems with your speech or eyesight
  • Jaundice (yellowing skin or yellowing eyes)

Can I cover the patch with make up?

No, this is not recommended. You should also avoid covering the patch with body cream or lotions, such as sun tan lotion. This may cause the patch to become loose.

Do I always have to stick the patch in the same place?

When you first start using the patch, you can vary the position every time you use a new patch to reduce your risk of irritation.