If you’ve been thinking about trying the birth control patch, you probably want to know how well it works. The patch can prevent pregnancy very effectively when you use it correctly. But mistakes happen, so success rates vary.
Let’s look at how the patch stops you from getting pregnant, what impacts effectiveness, and tips for making it as reliable as possible.
The Patch’s Pregnancy Prevention Plan
The patch has the hormones estrogen and progestin, similar to the pill. But they go through your skin instead of your stomach. You stick on a new birth control patch once a week for three weeks. Week four is patch-free for your period.
The hormones work to stop pregnancy in three key ways:
- They keep your ovaries from releasing eggs. No eggs means you can’t get pregnant.
- They thicken the mucus in your cervix to stop the sperm from reaching your uterus.
- They also thin your uterus’s lining, so an egg that’s been fertilized would have trouble implanting.
Since the hormones absorb through your skin, you don’t have to stress about taking a daily pill. And throwing up or diarrhea won’t change the hormone amounts as it could with the pill.
Perfect vs Typical Use: How Effective Is It Really?
When talking about birth control effectiveness, there are two rates:
- Perfect use effectiveness: Over 99% effective if used 100% correctly. Less than one out of 100 patch users would become pregnant over a year.
- Typical use effectiveness: Around 92% effective accounting for common mistakes. About eight out of 100 patch users get pregnant over one year.
Following the directions perfectly affects your odds, but remembering the weekly schedule can be tough.
What Makes the Patch Less Effective?
Forgetting to change the patch is the first issue, as the hormones wear off after seven days. Late changes cause hormone drops that reduce protection and are the most frequent causes of patch failures. Marking your calendar and setting phone alarms can help remind you to change it on time each week.
Another issue is the patch falling off. If the patch doesn’t stick well and comes off your skin, you’ll absorb less of the hormones. How much your pregnancy protection drops depends on how long you haven’t had the patch on. If you’re not getting a steady dose of hormones, your odds of getting pregnant increase.
Additionally, some supplements and medicines such as St. John’s Wort, certain antibiotics and antifungals, and seizure medications can impact how your body absorbs or processes the hormones in the patch. The medication effectiveness interacting with the birth control hormones can make both less effective.
Another problem is if you miss the first patch after your period week. Starting your new patch cycle late after your patch-free week leaves you unprotected until you apply a new patch. The key is consistently having the hormones in your system with no gaps.
Tips for Using the Patch Perfectly
It takes dedication, but using the patch exactly as directed can give you over 99% protection from pregnancy. Here are some strategies that will help you achieve perfect use:
- Change the patch on the same day every week – many women pick Sunday. Put a weekly reminder in your calendar, planner, or phone.
- When you take off the old patch, immediately apply your new patch. Don’t wait until the day after or even hours later.
- Before applying the fresh patch, check that your skin is clean, dry, and hairless in the area you plan to apply it.
- When changing patches, press on the edges to check the stickiness. If it’s not adhering well, choose a new location.
- Never go more than seven days without a fresh patch. Stick to your schedule dutifully.
- If the patch comes off or you forget to put a new one on time, use an additional birth control method for seven days.
- Avoid any drugs or supplements that could impact the patch’s efficacy. If you must take them, use backup birth control too.
- Don’t use lotions, oils, powders, or makeup near your patch that could loosen adhesion.
- Check on your patch in the shower or bath to make sure water hasn’t loosened it.
Stay in close contact with your doctor and call immediately if you have any issues, such as the patch falling off early, reactions at the application site, or missed changes. Getting back on track is much easier when you address any problems immediately.
Possible Side Effects and Health Risks
The hormones in the patch can cause some side effects that you should be aware of:
- Increased blood clot risk. The estrogen raises your chances of a blood clot slightly higher than with the pill, especially in the first year of use. Smoking, being overweight, or being immobile also raises your clotting risk. Blood clots can be very dangerous, so the patch may not be the best option if you have multiple risk factors.
- Small increased chance of breast and cervical cancer. According to research, the hormones in the patch may raise your odds somewhat compared to non-hormonal methods. However, the overall risk is still low. Discussing your personal and family cancer history with your doctor when considering the patch is recommended so you can make an informed decision.
- For the first 2-3 months, you may have nausea, headaches, breast tenderness, or moodiness as your body adjusts to the hormones, though these symptoms often resolve over time.
- Skin irritation can occur at the patch application site from the adhesive and friction from clothing. Rotating to a new spot on your body each week helps prevent this reaction.
Determine If the Birth Control Patch Is Right for You with Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness
Alternatives to the patch, such as the pill, shot, implant, or IUD, can provide the same effective pregnancy protection without some of the potential issues, such as visibility, skin reactions, or adhesion problems. But they require taking a daily pill, getting a shot every three months, or having a medical procedure for insertion.
If you’re uncertain of the best birth control solution that aligns with your lifestyle and considers any health concerns you may have, Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness can help. Contact us today at (919) 636-6670 or schedule a consultation online to work with our healthcare experts to determine if the birth control patch is the right option for you.