What Is Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception is a
form of birth control that prevents pregnancy after sex. It’s also called
“morning after contraception.” Emergency contraception can be used if you had
unprotected sex or if you think your birth control failed. However, it does not
protect against sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Emergency
contraception can be used immediately after intercourse and can be used up to
five days after sex (three days in some cases).
All forms of emergency
contraception make it much less likely that you will get pregnant, but it’s not
nearly as effective as regularly using birth control, such as birth control pills
Emergency contraception is safe
to use, though some individuals may have adverse reactions to different forms.
There are currently two forms
of emergency contraception. These are hormonal emergency contraception and the
insertion of a copper IUD.
Hormonal Emergency Contraception Pills
contraception is frequently called “the morning after pill.” It is the most
well-known form of emergency contraception. According to Planned Parenthood,
it reduces the risk of pregnancy by up to 95 percent.
contraception options include:
- Plan B
One-Step: This must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
Choice: It includes one or two pills. The first (or only) pill should be taken
as soon as possible and within 72 hours of unprotected sex, and the second pill
should be taken 12 hours after the first pill.
- ella: One
single, oral dose that should be taken within five days of unprotected
Plan B One-Step and Next Choice
are both levonorgestrel (progestin-only) pills, which are available over the
counter without a prescription. The other option, ella, is an ulipristal
acetate, which is only available with a prescription.
Because pregnancy doesn’t occur immediately after sex, hormonal emergency
contraception pills still have time to prevent it. Emergency contraception
pills reduce likelihood of pregnancy by preventing the ovary from releasing an
egg for longer than usual.
The morning after pill does not
cause an abortion. It prevents pregnancy from ever occurring.
It is safe for most women to
take hormonal emergency contraception, though it’s always a good idea to ask
your doctor about interactions with other medications if possible.
Common side effects of hormonal emergency contraception include:
bleeding or spotting, sometimes up until your next period
If you vomit within two hours
of taking emergency hormonal contraception, call a healthcare professional and
ask if you should retake the dose.
While hormonal birth control
can make your next period lighter or heavier than normal, your body should
return to normal afterward. If you don’t get your period in three weeks, take a
Some hormonal emergency
contraception pills, like Plan B One-Step, are available to purchase without
needing to show ID. Others, like ella, are available only with a prescription.
Emergency IUD Contraception
A copper IUD can be used as
emergency contraception if inserted within five days after unprotected sex. The
IUD will need to be inserted by a healthcare provider. Emergency IUD insertion
reduces the risk of pregnancy by 99 percent.
They are available only by prescription.
It’s important to note that
only copper IUDs, such as Paragard, are effective immediately as emergency
contraception. They can also be left in for up to 10 years, providing lasting
and highly effective birth control. This means that other hormonal IUDs, such
as Mirena and Skyla, are not to be used as emergency contraception.
Copper IUDs work by releasing copper into the uterus and fallopian tubes, which
acts as a spermicide. It may prevent implantation when used for emergency
contraception, though this has not been proven.
The copper IUD insertion is the
most effective form of emergency birth control.
Common side effects of copper
IUD insertion include:
and heavier periods
Because some women feel dizzy
or feel discomfort immediately after the insertion, many prefer to have someone
there to drive them home.
With a copper IUD, there is a low risk of
pelvic inflammatory disease.
The copper IUD is not
recommended for women who currently have a pelvic infection or get infections
easily. If you think you could be pregnant once you have an IUD inserted, call
your doctor immediately.
Because the IUD costs more up front
and requires both a prescription and a doctor’s appointment to insert it, many
women prefer to get the hormonal emergency contraception even though the IUD is
What You Need to Know
All forms of emergency
contraception can significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy, but they need to
be taken promptly. With hormonal emergency contraception, the sooner you take
it, the more successful it will be at preventing pregnancy.
If the emergency contraception
fails and you still become pregnant, doctors should check for an ectopic
pregnancy, which is when the pregnancy occurs somewhere outside of the uterus.
Ectopic pregnancies can be dangerous and life-threatening. Symptoms of ectopic
pregnancies include severe pain on one or both sides of the lower abdomen,
spotting, and dizziness.
When used correctly, both
hormonal emergency contraception and copper IUD insertion are effective at
significantly reducing the risk of pregnancy. If you still become pregnant after
taking emergency contraception, see a doctor right away to check for an ectopic
pregnancy. If possible, consulting a doctor to choose an emergency
contraception method can protect you from negative interactions with other
medicines or pre-existing health conditions.