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Emergency Contraception and the Morning After Pill

Every year, many women use emergency oral contraception to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Most people use the so-called morning after pill, which is available without a prescription at the local pharmacy.

The Morning After Pill and Its Effects

The morning after pill contains ingredients designed to prevent ovulation, and is contraception for use in emergencies.

It works by delaying ovulation long enough so that an egg will not be released to potentially meet any sperm cells currently in your body. In addition, the ingredients in emergency oral contraceptives can also prevent any fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine lining.

When is the Morning After Pill an Option?

If you find yourself in one of the following situations, the morning after pill may be a solution if you want to avoid holding a positive pregnancy test in your hand.

Emergency oral contraception can be used if you have had sexual intercourse and:

  • The condom burst or slipped during intercourse
  • You are on oral contraception, but have been vomiting
  • Your contraceptive coil (IUD) has been expelled
  • The effectiveness of your contraception is uncertain because you forgot to take your birth control pills, mini pills or patches as you should
  • You use a less effective method, such as intercourse during the “safe period” of your cycle, or the withdrawal method
  • You have unprotected intercourse.

There may be many reasons for choosing to take emergency contraception, but it is important to remember that the morning after pill is not meant to be a replacement for your regular contraception. It should only be used as an emergency.

If you find yourself regularly forgetting to take your birth control pills, for example, it may be a good idea to talk with your doctor about switching to a different method of contraception.

Safety of the Morning After Pill

Many women do not know that it is very important to take emergency contraception as quickly as possible after intercourse in order to have the greatest chance possible of preventing a pregnancy.

If you know you do not want to get pregnant and intercourse has put you at risk of becoming pregnant, you need to make a quick decision.

The ideal option would be if you have the morning after pill already in your medicine cabinet or in your handbag so you do not waste time trying to get hold of it. This means you can take the contraception as fast as possible.

Emergency oral contraception should be taken immediately or within 2-5 days after your sexual encounter, depending on the type of morning after pill you choose. Whichever type you choose, the sooner you take it, the greater the chance you will not get pregnant.

The statistics below demonstrate how time is of the essence. They are calculated based on how long you wait to take the day after the pill after the intercourse and how this correlates to the risk of getting pregnant.

If you take the morning after pill after intercourse

  • Within 24 hours, the risk of pregnancy is 2-4%
  • Between 24-38 hours after intercourse, the risk of pregnancy is 11-14%
  • Between 48-72 hours after intercourse, the risk of pregnancy is 15-21%

A report from Sweden’s health authorities a few years ago revealed that 17% of all women aged 15-24 who had abortions had attempted to prevent their pregnancy through using the morning after pill.

Potential Side Effects of Emergency Contraception

As with any medicine, prescription or not, emergency oral contraception can cause side effects, and it is important that you bear this in mind. It is particularly important to take note of side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

If you vomit within 4 hours after taking the morning after pill, you should take another one. This is because it is likely that the first pill you swallowed may not have begun to work. Breast tenderness, nausea, headache and sometimes bleeding are typical side effects.

Are There Other Forms of Emergency Contraception?

You can also prevent a pregnancy by using an emergency IUD or coil, but you will need to book an appointment with a doctor.

If you choose to use a coil as your emergency contraception, it is important that you call your doctor as soon as possible after you have had unprotected intercourse. The coil should be inserted into the uterus at most 5 days after intercourse in order to prevent a pregnancy from developing.

The emergency IUD is a copper coil that, in addition to preventing you from becoming pregnant on this occasion, will also prevent pregnancy for the next 5 years. This gives it an advantage for those who have trouble remembering to take other forms of contraception that must be used more frequently.

Remember, however, that an IUD only protects against pregnancy and not against sexually transmitted infections.

The Morning After Pill Does Not Always Work

Even when you take the morning after pill immediately, there is always a small risk of pregnancy. This makes it important that you test to make sure you are not pregnant.

Try to take a pregnancy test about 21 days after you have had intercourse so that you can find out early whether or not the emergency contraception was effective. Any pregnancy test can be used for this, and the cheapest option, test strips, can be bought in many places.

However, if you are worried that you are pregnant and want to be absolutely sure that you are reading the test results correctly, you may want to consider using a pregnancy test from Clearblue.

A Clearblue digital test will let you know with no uncertainty whether you are pregnant or not. You can read the results in clear lettering, and hopefully be able to relax because you were able to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

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