What Is Emergency Contraception?

definition, morning after pill
What Is The Emergency Contraceptive Pill?

Emergency contraception is a medication taken to prevent pregnancy AFTER unprotected sexual intercourse. Also called the morning after pill it needs to be taken within 72 to 120 hours (depending on the brand) to be effective. It is like the normal daily birth control pill but contains a much higher dosage of hormones. Women take it because they didn't use contraception or because the contraception failed (for example, the condom split or slipped off). Typically a packet of emergency contraceptives contains 1 or 2 pills and this is sufficient, if taken in time, to prevent conception. In America, Canada, Great Britain and Ireland, the morning after pill is now available in pharmacies without a doctor's prescription. This is great news because it takes much of the hassle out of getting hold of it, not to mention reduces the cost.

What emergency contraception is NOT - is an abortion pill. It does not kill an embryo - instead it prevents conception (when egg meets sperm) from happening in the first place. It does this by interfering with the ovulation process by slowing the movement of the egg through the fallopian tube (so it's less likely to encounter sperm) or altering the lining of the womb so that implantation cannot occur.

United States: Brand Names

The following 3 brands are available in pharmacies across America 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 for $40. It can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex.


Emergency contraception is not meant to be used regularly as a method of birth control because it contains high dosages of hormone which may be harmful if taken too often. If you are sexually active but not planning on having a baby yet, talk to your doctor about choosing a safer birth control method for you.

Emergency contraceptions cause nausea in about 50 percent of women who take them and about 1 in 5 will throw up. Fewer women however experience symptoms with progestin-only brands. If do you have a sensitive stomach it may be worth taking the over-the-counter anti-nausea drug like Dramamine 2 or Bonine. Taken 30 minutes before the emergency contraceptive, anti-nausea meds can help reduce the risk of throwing up. If you do vomit, talk to your pharmacist about the next steps. You may need to take the contraceptive again.

Related Questions
What is the difference between the emergency contraception pill and the normal pill?
Can I use ordinary birth control pills for emergency contraception?
How effective is emergency contraception?
What are the early signs of pregnancy before a missed period?
About Taking Daily Birth Control Contraceptives
Will I gain weight on the contraceptive pill?
Can you get pregnant while taking the pill?

• Like more information? See Birth Control Methods
• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions

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