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What is the birth control patch?

The birth control or contraceptive patch—also known as “the Patch”—is a thin, smooth beige patch that looks like an oversized Band-Aid. It releases hormones through the skin to stop the ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation). The hormones are similar to those found in birth control pills (estrogen and progesterone).

The Patch is placed on the buttocks, back, abdomen or upper arm and is left in place for one week. After one week, you take it off and replace it with a new one. This same cycle continues for three weeks. During the fourth week, you remove the Patch so that bleeding similar to a period can take place. On the following week, a new Patch is applied, and the cycle repeats.

When used perfectly, the Patch is more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. The Patch does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), so using a condom too will protect you against STDs.

Like with the Pill, there can be side effects associated with the Patch. Most users will have lighter, regular bleeding and less cramping. Some users will experience some skin irritation where the Patch is applied. They might also experience nausea, breast tenderness or headaches. And the Patch might not be effective for those who weigh more than 198 pounds.

The Patch is ideal if you want regular bleeding each month; welcome relief from heavy or long periods and bad cramps; or find it easier to remember to change a patch every week than to take a pill every day. It is not ideal if you don’t want the Patch to be noticed by others.

The Patch requires a prescription, just like any other hormonal method of birth control. Usually family planning clinics, like Planned Parenthood, are less expensive than a private doctor’s office, but health insurance will cover the Patch. Most clinics will only ask you to pay what you can afford and are ideal if you don’t want to go through health insurance.

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