Emergency contraception is birth control you can use to prevent pregnancy up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. The morning-after pill is safe and effective and available at health centers and drugstores. Costs vary from $10 to $70.
What Is the Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)?
The morning-after pill goes by brand names of Ella, Next Choice and Plan B One-Step. It can be used up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected intercourse.
How Does the Morning-After Pill Work?
Two brands of the morning-after pill — Plan B One-Step and Next Choice — are made of one of the hormones found in birth control pills called progestin. The other brand of the morning-after pill — Ella — is made of a medication called ulipristal acetate.
All brands of the morning-after pill work by keeping a woman's ovaries from releasing eggs — ovulation. Pregnancy cannot happen if there is no egg to join with sperm. The hormone in the morning-after pill also prevents pregnancy by thickening a woman's cervical mucus. The mucus blocks sperm and keeps it from joining with an egg. The morning-after pill can also thin the lining of the uterus. In theory, this could prevent pregnancy by keeping a fertilized egg from attaching and implanting into the uterine lining.
You might have also heard that the morning-after pill causes an abortion, but that's not true. The morning-after pill is not the abortion pill. Emergency contraception is birth control, not abortion.
How Effective Is the Morning-After Pill?
Emergency contraception can be started up to 120 hours — five days — after unprotected intercourse. The sooner it is started, the better it works. It can reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent when started within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. It continues to reduce the risk of pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse, but it is less effective as time passes.
You need to use the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy after each time you have unprotected intercourse. The morning-after pill will not prevent pregnancy for any unprotected intercourse you may have after taking the pills. If you do not have your period within three weeks after taking emergency contraception, you may want to consider taking a pregnancy test.
The morning-after pill offers no protection against sexually transmitted diseases or infections. You may want to consider STD testing if there is a possibility that unprotected sex put you at risk.
How Safe Is the Morning-After Pill?
Emergency contraception is safe, and millions of women have used it. Various forms of emergency contraception have been used for more than 30 years. There have been no reports of serious complications.
Even though Plan B One-Step and Next Choice are made of one of the same hormones used in the birth control pill, the morning-after pill does not have the same risks as taking the pill or other hormonal birth control methods continuously. That's because the hormone in the morning-after pill is not in your body as long as it is with ongoing birth control.
What Are the Disadvantages of the Morning-After Pill?
Although most women use the morning after pill with few problems, you may experience some undesirable side effects while using this medication. Nausea and throwing up are the most common side effects. Less than 1 out of 4 women feel sick when they take them. You can use anti-nausea medicine one hour before taking emergency contraception if you are concerned about being nauseous. Many women also find it helpful to take the emergency contraception pills with a full stomach.
Other side effects of the morning-after pill may include
- breast tenderness
- irregular bleeding
If you use the morning-after pill frequently, it may cause your period to be irregular. It may be earlier or later than usual. It may be heavier, lighter, more spotty, or the same as usual. Remember, if you do not have your period within three weeks after taking emergency contraception, or if you have any symptoms of pregnancy, take a pregnancy test or schedule an appointment with your health care provider.
Emergency contraception should not be used as a form of ongoing birth control because there are other forms of birth control that are much more effective.
How Do I Get the Morning-After Pill?
Plan B One-Step and Next Choice are available from drugstores and health centers without a prescription for women and men 17 and older. If you are interested in getting emergency contraception and are 17 or older, you can try your local drugstore. If you are younger than 17, you'll need to go to a health care center or private health care provider for a prescription.
We all like to be prepared. That is why it's a great idea to keep some emergency contraception in your medicine cabinet or bedside table in case of an accident. Having the morning-after pill on hand will let you take it as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse, when it is most effective.