Emergency contraceptives are often called the morning after pill. They were invented for exactly that, the morning after the night before when something didn’t quite go to plan. Accidents happen in all walks of life and sex is no different. They can offer you a second chance to prevent pregnancy after having had unprotected sex. An emergency pill typically contains hormones that are similar to oral contraceptives, but are much higher dosed. It works mainly by stopping or delaying the ovaries from releasing an egg. It may also work by changing the lining of the womb that may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. For the best chance for it to work, you should take the emergency pill as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Ideally you should take it up to 24 hours after you’ve had unprotected sex, but if it’s taken more than 24 hours after, it’s already much less effective. However, it could still work up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex. After using emergency contraception you should use another form of contraception for the rest of your cycle to protect yourself if you do not want to become pregnant.
Emergency contraceptives are not like the other contraception methods. Emergency contraception should never be the contraception that you choose to use regularly, it is not a method that you pick and say, “I think this is the one for me, I’ll take 10 please”. Emergency contraception is a back-up method for emergencies, for that one time the condom broke, or the diaphragm slipped or other genuine accidents or unforeseen circumstances. If you’re unfortunate enough to have one of these, immediately visit your healthcare provider to seek further advice. Don’t forget to get yourself tested for STIs, too. These unfortunate accidents expose you to those as well as unplanned pregnancy.
PROS AND CONS
It helps prevent pregnancy after birth control failure or unprotected sex
Most effective when used within the first 12 hours after unprotected sex, but it is effective up to 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex.
It contains a high dose of hormones in one pill
Using it repeatedly can interrupt the natural menstrual cycle
It may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, menstrual pain, tiredness, dizziness, fatigue
Does not protect against HIV infection (AIDS) and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
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How long after having unprotected sex can I take the emergency pill?
The emergency pill must be taken within 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex. The sooner it is taken, the more effective it is. It is most effective if it is taken within the first 12 hours after unprotected sex.
Is it safe to use the emergency pill more than once a month?
Repeated administration within a menstrual cycle is not advisable because of the possibility of disturbance of the cycle. The emergency pill should not be relied on as a regular form of contraception, and it is not as effective as other forms of hormonal contraception specifically made for regular use - it is only intended as a back-up.
Will the emergency pill cause me to have an abortion?
No, the pill contains either a combination of estrogen and progestin or progestin only, and works by delaying or inhibiting ovulation. It is not a method of abortion.
Can I use the emergency pill with any other forms of contraception, e.g. if I have forgotten to take my contraceptive pill?
Yes, you can use the emergency pill if something has gone wrong with your usual form of contraception, for example a forgotten pill or split condom.
Does emergency contraception disrupt an existing pregnancy?
No. ECPs do not work if a woman is already pregnant. When taken before a woman has ovulated, ECPs prevent the release of an egg from the ovary or delay its release by 5 to 7 days. By then, any sperm in the woman's reproductive tract will have died, since sperm can survive there for only about 5 days.
Does emergency contraception cause birth defects? Will the fetus be harmed if a woman accidentally takes ECPs while she is pregnant?
Good evidence shows that ECPs will not cause birth defects and will not otherwise harm the fetus if a woman is already pregnant when she takes ECPs or if ECPs fail to prevent pregnancy.
How long does emergency contraception protect a woman from pregnancy for?
Women who take ECPs should understand that they could become pregnant the next time they have sex unless they begin to use another method of contraception at once. Because ECPs delay ovulation in some women, she may be most fertile soon after taking ECPs. If she wants ongoing protection from pregnancy, she must start using another contraceptive method at once.
Should women use emergency contraception as a regular method of contraception?
No. Nearly all other contraceptive methods are more effective in preventing pregnancy. A woman who uses ECPs regularly for contraception is more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than a woman who uses another contraceptive regularly. Still, women using other methods of contraception should know about ECPs and how to obtain them if needed—for example, if a condom breaks or a woman misses 3 or more combined oral contraceptive pills.