An emergency contraceptive pill, or morning-after pill, can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. There are two different kinds of pill available; one can be taken up to 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex and the other within 120 hours (five days). The sooner you take either, the more effective it will be against unplanned pregnancy.
Both pills work by delaying ovulation or preventing the release of the egg, or by irritating the lining of the uterus to ensure any fertilised eggs will not be able to implant.
Dr. Diana Gall
Our Health Care Team
"If you have unprotected sex and want to avoid pregnancy, then an emergency contraceptive pill can help prevent this. It should be taken as soon as possible once sex has taken place to maximise your chances of stopping sperm from fertilising an egg. When used correctly, emergency contraceptive is very effective, but it should not be treated like regular contraception. For regular treatment of this kind, other products such as daily birth control pills are available."
Emergency Contraception explained
Emergency contraception is a type of birth control which is taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex in order to prevent pregnancy. Whereas regular contraceptive pills are taken on a daily basis, the emergency type are only used when deemed necessary.
While they are known as the “morning after pill”, emergency contraception pills can be taken around 3-5 days after unprotected sex (depending on the exact product used). It is, however, better to take them as soon as possible after sex.
Emergency contraception pills are not meant to be used as regular birth control. In comparison, methods such as daily contraceptive pills or hormonal implants are more effective at preventing pregnancy. However, even if you take precautions to prevent pregnancy during sex, accidents can happen. For instance, the condom being used could split. In moments like these, an emergency contraceptive pill can be very helpful.
How do I know if emergency contraception has worked?
It can be difficult to tell if a pill has prevented a pregnancy, but if your next period starts as expected and is no lighter than normal, then that suggests the pill has likely worked. If your period starts sooner than expected, is lighter than normal, or you miss it completely, then that could indicate that conception has taken place.
If you remain unsure, then you could take a pregnancy test to find out. If you want to do this though, it’s best to wait until 3 weeks after sex, since this is when most tests pick up on pregnancy hormones.
Will the pill protect against further unprotected sex?
No. If you have unprotected sex at any point after taking an emergency contraceptive pill, then you may still conceive. You may want to consider other methods of contraception such as an IUD (intrauterine device), but such a thing should be inserted by a trained healthcare professional.
Emergency contraception during ovulation
Contraception is designed to delay ovulation, but if ovulation occurred around 12 to 24 hours before unprotected sex, then that can lead to pregnancy. That’s because the egg released during ovulation could have been fertilised. If you think you may have ovulated just before you had unprotected sex, you can contact your GP or a contraception clinic for advice.
Can contraception end pregnancy after I’ve conceived?
No. If you’ve already conceived, then an emergency contraception pill won’t terminate the pregnancy. They are not abortion pills and you will have to seek another method if you want to put a stop to the pregnancy. There does exist various medical and surgical options for terminating a pregnancy, depending on which stage of it you’re at. iMeds does not sell any kind of abortion pills.
Can I still get pregnant after using emergency contraception?
Yes, it’s possible. Even if you take an emergency contraception pill, there’s a small chance you could still conceive. Emergency contraceptive pills are effective but they are not 100% effective and regular methods of contraception such as combined or progesterone-only pills have proven to be more effective in comparison.
Having said all of that, an emergency contraception pill is estimated to be as good as 95% effective if it’s taken within the first 24 hours following unprotected sex. One particular kind of emergency contraceptive, EllaOne, remains 95% effective when taken between 48-120 hours after unprotected sex.
If you wait longer than the optimum time for use, then emergency contraceptive pills do become less effective. Also, if you vomit within 3 hours after taking a pill, you’re most likely not protected. If this happens to you, speak to your GP as soon as possible for advice on what to do next.
Using emergency contraception after giving birth
You can use an emergency contraception pill after you’ve given birth, although you shouldn’t need one during the first 21 days after giving birth (because it’s not possible to get pregnant during this time). If you have unprotected sex at some point after the first 21 days and you don’t want to conceive again, then you can take an emergency contraceptive pill.
Emergency contraception side effects
Whichever exact brand you get, emergency contraceptive pills can potentially cause side effects, although not everyone experiences them. The list of side effects linked to emergency contraceptive pills includes the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Back pain
- Irregular bleeding
- Breast tenderness
- Mood swings
How often can you use emergency contraception?
How often an emergency contraceptive pill can be used depends on the exact product. For instance, EllaOne can only be taken once per cycle. Doctors generally agree that Levonelle can be used more often.
Does emergency contraception affect regular contraception?
It is possible that an emergency contraception pill could temporarily disrupt how your regular birth control works within a cycle. If you use hormonal birth control, it is strongly recommended that you additionally use barrier methods such as condoms until your next cycle.
Emergency contraception near me
At iMeds, you can purchase certain emergency contraception medicines online (subject to doctor approval) and have them delivered to your home or another address of your choosing. The standard reason for doing this would be to use such medication as a back-up in case you have unprotected sex at some point in the future. Another reason might be that you are planning to travel abroad to somewhere where pills like these are hard to obtain.
We do not recommend that you order emergency contraception online if you require it straight away, since the delivery of the medication may not happen fast enough to prevent pregnancy. If you need to take an emergency contraceptive now, you can acquire one for free at the following places:
- Contraception clinics
- Most NHS walk-in centres/minor injury units
- Most GP surgeries
- Some walk-in pharmacies
- Some accident and emergency departments
- Sexual health or genitourinary clinics
Not all of the places mentioned above may be able to fit an IUD, but if you are near at least one of them, you’ll likely be able to get some type of emergency contraception for free and confidentially (whether you’re over or under the age of 16).