Emergency Contraception (Morning After Pill)

Emergency Contraception (Morning After Pill)

Emergency Contraception (Morning After Pill) at a Glance

  • Birth control you can use to prevent pregnancy up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex
  • Safe and effective
  • Available at health centers and drugstores
  • Costs vary from $10 to $70

Is Emergency Contraception Right for Me?

Accidents happen that's why we have emergency contraception (also known as the morning after pill). Did you have intercourse without using protection? Did you forget to use your birth control correctly? Did the condom break, leaving you worried about becoming pregnant? If so, emergency contraception might be a good choice for you.

Here are some of the most common questions we hear women ask about emergency contraception. We hope the answers help you decide if it is right for you. 

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    What Is Emergency Contraception?

    Emergency contraception (EC) is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. It can be started up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected intercourse.

    You may want EC if
    • The condom broke or slipped off, and he ejaculated in your vagina.
    • You forgot to take your birth control pills, insert your ring, or apply your patch.
    • Your diaphragm or cap slipped out of place, and he ejaculated inside your vagina.
    • You miscalculated your "safe" days.
    • He didn't pull out in time.
    • You weren't using any birth control.
    • You were forced to have unprotected vaginal sex, or were raped.

    Emergency contraception is also known as emergency birth control, backup birth control, the morning after pill, and by the brand names Plan B One-Step and Next Choice.

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    Why Is Emergency Contraception Sometimes Called the Morning After Pill?

    Many people call emergency contraception the "morning after pill." But the name is a little confusing. You can use emergency contraception any time, up to five days, after unprotected intercourse not just the "morning after." That's why the term "emergency contraception" is more accurate than "morning after pill."

    Here we will use "emergency contraception" and "morning after pill" to mean any kind of pills that can be taken after intercourse to prevent pregnancy.

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    How Does Emergency Contraception Work?

    Emergency contraception is made of the same hormones found in birth control pills. Hormones are chemicals made in our bodies. They control how different parts of the body work.

    The hormones in 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 hormones in the morning after pill also prevent pregnancy by thickening a woman's cervical mucus. The mucus blocks sperm and keeps it from joining with an egg.

    The hormones also thin the lining of the uterus. In theory, this could prevent pregnancy by keeping a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

    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.

    Plan B One-Step and Next Choice are brands of hormone pills specially packaged as emergency contraception. They contain the hormone progestin.

    Certain brands of birth control pills may also be used in larger doses than usual as backup birth control. See our chart below for information about the kinds of birth control pills that can be used as emergency contraception.

    A ParaGard IUD can also be used as backup birth control if inserted within 120 hours five days after unprotected intercourse. It is 99.9 percent effective. Talk with your health care provider if you're interested in getting an IUD.

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    How Effective Is Emergency Contraception?

    Effectiveness is an important and common concern especially when it comes to emergency contraception (also known as the morning after pill). The morning after pill is an effective form of backup birth control. However, it is not as effective as ongoing use of the pill, the ring, the patch, the shot, or the IUD, when they are used correctly.

    Emergency contraception can be started up to 120 hours five days after unprotected intercourse. The sooner it is started, the better it works.

    • Plan B One-Step and Next Choice reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent when started within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.
    • When birth control pills are used as emergency contraception, they reduce the risk of pregnancy by 75 percent when started within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse.

    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.

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    How Safe Is Emergency Contraception?

    Emergency contraception (also known as the morning after pill) is safe. Even though the morning after pill is made of the same hormones as the birth control pill, it does not have the same risks as taking the pill or other hormonal birth control methods continuously. That's because the hormones in the morning after pill are not in your body as long as they are with ongoing birth control.

    Millions of women have used emergency contraception. It has been used for more than 30 years. There have been no reports of serious complications.

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    What Are the Disadvantages of Emergency Contraception?

    You may have some undesirable side effects while using emergency contraception (also known as the morning after pill). But many women use Plan B One-Step and Next Choice with few or no problems. If you use birth control pills as emergency contraception, you have a greater chance of having side effects. Any side effects usually go away in a day or two.

    Nausea and throwing up are the most common side effects, especially when using birth control pills as the morning after pill.
    • About half of the women who take birth control pills as emergency contraception feel sick to their stomachs, but only for about 24 hours. Less than 1 out of 5 throw up after taking the pills.
    • The risk of nausea and throwing up are much less with Plan B One-Step and Next Choice. 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
    • dizziness
    • headaches

    If you use the morning after pill frequently, it may cause your period to be irregular. Emergency contraception should not be used as a form of ongoing birth control because there are other forms of birth control that are a lot more effective.

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    How Do I Get Emergency Contraception?

    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 either get it directly from a Planned Parenthood health center or from your local drugstore. If you are younger than 17, you'll need to go to a health 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. If you are younger than 17, you can ask your health care provider for a prescription that you can fill ahead of time.

    Emergency contraception is safe, effective, and should be widely available. But because of certain policies and personal bias, some women may have a hard time getting it. If you are having trouble getting emergency contraception from your local pharmacy or health care provider, contact your local Planned Parenthood health center. We can help you get the medicine you need.

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    How Much Does Emergency Contraception Cost?

    The cost of emergency contraception varies a great deal. It may cost anywhere from $10 to $70. If you are not 17 and need a prescription, the health center visit may cost up to $250, depending on where you live.

    Family planning clinics usually charge less than private health care providers and drugstores.

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    How Do I Use Emergency Contraception?

    Take emergency contraception as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse. The sooner you start it, the better it will work. But it will reduce your risk of pregnancy if you start it up to 120 hours five days after unprotected intercourse.

    Next Choice can be taken in one dose or two doses. If you take it in two doses, take the second pill 12 hours after the first pill. Or simply take them both at the same time. It's your choice.

    When you take birth control pills as emergency contraception, you must take the pills in two doses, 12 hours apart. The number of pills in each dose depends on the brand of the pill. You must use the same brand of pill for each dose. Only these brands of pills can be used for emergency contraception:

    Brand First Dose
    (within 120 hours)
    Second Dose
    (12 hours later)
    Plan B One-Step 1 white pill

    none

    Next Choice 1 orange pill

    1 orange pill*

    Alesse 5 pink pills 5 pink pills
    Aviane 5 orange pills 5 orange pills
    Cryselle 4 white pills 4 white pills
    Enpresse 4 orange pills 4 orange pills
    Jolessa 4 pink pills 4 pink pills
    Lessina 5 pink pills 5 pink pills
    Levlen 4 light-orange pills 4 light-orange pills
    Levlite 5 pink pills 5 pink pills
    Levora 4 white pills 4 white pills
    Lo/Ovral 4 white pills 4 white pills
    Low-Ogestrel 4 white pills 4 white pills
    Lutera 5 white pills 5 white pills
    Lybrel 6 yellow pills 6 yellow pills
    Nordette 4 light-orange pills 4 light-orange pills
    Ogestrel 2 white pills 2 white pills
    Ovral 2 white pills 2 white pills
    Portia 4 pink pills 4 pink pills
    Quasense 4 white pills 4 white pills
    Seasonale 4 pink pills 4 pink pills
    Seasonique 4 light-blue-green pills 4 light-blue-green pills
    Tri-Levlen 4 yellow pills 4 yellow pills
    Triphasil 4 yellow pills 4 yellow pills
    Trivora 4 pink pills 4 pink pills

    *Both doses of Next Choice can be taken at the same time.

    If you use some of the pills from your birth control pill pack for emergency contraception, ask your health care provider how to continue using the pill. Use a backup method like a condom or female condom until you get medical advice.

    If you become nauseous and throw up after taking the first dose of the pills, be sure to use anti-nausea medication, such as Dramamine or Bonine, an hour before taking the second dose. Be sure to read the package of the anti-nausea medicine to find out if it has any side effects some women may feel drowsy. You may also try taking the pills on a full stomach to help ease nausea. Or, instead of taking it by mouth, you can insert the second dose as high into your vagina as you can reach. The medicine will be absorbed through the walls of your vagina, and will not make you feel sick to your stomach. (It is not recommended for you to take your daily birth control pills vaginally.)

    If you throw up after the second dose, you should not take any extra pills. The pills will most likely make you sicker, and probably won't reduce your chance of getting pregnant.

    After you take emergency contraception, it's normal for your next period to be different from usual.

    • It may be earlier or later than usual.
    • It may be heavier, lighter, more spotty, or the same as usual.

    Be sure to tell any health care provider that you may see before your next period that you have taken the morning after pill. 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.

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