Emergency Contraception
Morning After Pill: Preventing Pregnancy


morning after pill

Emergency Contraceptive Pills


What Is The Emergency Contraceptive Pill?
How Effective Is It?
How Does It Work?
Is It The Same As The Abortion Pill?
How Much Does It Cost?
What Are The Side Effects?

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Birth Control Methods
What Is The Emergency Contraceptive Pill?

Also known as the morning after pill, it is a medication taken to prevent pregnancy AFTER unprotected sexual intercourse. It needs to be taken either within 72 (3 days) or 120 hours (5 hours, depending on the brand) to be effective. It is similar to the normal daily contraceptive pill but contains a much higher dosage of hormones. You may need to take emergency contraception because the contraception you used when you had intercourse failed (for example your condom broke) or because you didn't use contraception. Typically a packet of emergency contraceptives contains 1 or 2 pills and this is sufficient, if taken in time, to prevent conception.
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How Effective Is It?

If taken according to the instructions on the packet, emergency contraception is 90 to 95 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. The sooner it is taken, the more effective it is likely to be. There are a few different types of emergency contraceptives, and some are slightly more effective than others. For more, read: how effective is emergency contraception? It is also worth remembering that the morning after pill will not protect you from HIV infection (the virus that causes AIDS) or any other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Brand Names

The following three brands are available in American pharmacies (such as CVS Pharmacy or Walgreens) without prescription for women aged 17 and over. If you are 16 or under you will need a doctor's prescription:

Plan B One Step: Contains 1 pill - needs to be taken within 72 hours.
Next Choice: Contains 2 pills - first pill should be taken within 72 hours and a second one 12 hours later.
Levonorgestrel Tablets: Contains 2 pills - first pill should be taken within 72 hours and a second one 12 hours later.

Prescription Only
Ella: Is prescription only, regardless of your age, although it can be ordered through an online prescription service. It can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex.
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Can I use ordinary birth control pills for emergency contraception?

How Does It Work?

The morning after pill interferes with the ovulation process by slowing the movement of the egg down the fallopian tube, so that it is less likely to meet sperm. It also alters the lining of the womb so that a fertilized egg cannot implant. It does not cause you to have a period or affect your menstrual cycle. You should have your period at the expected time.

Is It The Same As The Abortion Pill?

No, the abortion pill (Mifeprex, also called RU-486 and mifepristone) and the morning after pill are two different products. The morning after pill does not cause an abortion. Instead it works by preventing pregnancy in the first place. It cannot end a pregnancy that has already begun - which is why it won't work if taken outside of the recommended 120 hours (or 72 hours depending on the brand you take). The abortion pill is very different because it ends a confirmed pregnancy. It does this by making the womb expel the egg, ending the pregnancy, up to 49 days after it is confirmed. Mifeprex is only available on prescription after consultation with your doctor.

How Much Does It Cost?

When purchased direct from a pharmacy the morning after pill can cost between $35 and $60. The manufacturers of Plan B One-Step are offering a $10 coupon. To print it, visit their website: www.planbonestep.com/coupon.aspx. If you need help with the costs, many local health departments offer free emergency contraceptive to lower income women. To locate your nearest health department look at the government listings usually found at the front of your phone book. Alternatively google your county name and the words 'public health' or 'health department'. You could also contact your local Planned Parenthood Center which offer a 'sliding fee scale', depending on your income. If you have Medicaid coverage, it should cover you for the full cost of the morning after pill in most states.

What Are The Side Effects?

Emergency contraceptives have no long-term or serious side effects and are safe for most women to use. If you do experience side effects they may include:

• Headaches: Roughly 20 percent of women experience headaches.
• Painful period: 14 percent experience a painful period when their period came.
• Nausea: 12 percent felt nauseous. If you throw up within 2 hours of taking your medication you may need to repeat it.
• Breast tenderness.
• Fatigue.
Most symptoms should clear up within a few days of taking the drug.


The morning after pill is not meant to be used as a regular method of birth control because it contains high doses of hormone which may be harmful if taken too often. If you are sexually active but don't want to have a baby yet, talk to your doctor about safer forms of contraception. You may find condoms (including female condoms), birth control implants or birth control injections for example, more practical options.

Who Needs To Consult A Doctor First:
Talk to your doctor before taking the morning after pill if you:

• Are breastfeeding. The medication will leak into your breast milk.
• You are diabetic. This drug may affect your blood sugar levels. He may tell you to monitor your glucose levels closely.

When To Call A Doctor

If you experience severe tummy pain, you may have an ectopic pregnancy and should seek immediate medical attention.

If you experience an allergic reaction. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives, rash, itching, breathing difficulties, swelling of the mouth, tongue or lips.

The only way to know if the morning after pill has worked is when you get your next period. It should arrive at the expected time or within a week of the expected time. If you are more than 7 days late, you may be pregnant. You should have a pregnancy test. Keep in mind that the morning after pill is less likely to work if you:
• Had unprotected intercourse again in the same menstrual cycle after taking the pill.
• You vomit within 2 hours of taking the pill.

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For more, see the following:

Recommended health screenings for women.
Natural birth control methods: Preventing pregnancy naturally.
Male contraception: Is there a Pill for men?

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