Options For Emergency Contraception

Posted on: 15 May 2023

No matter how diligent you are about using birth control, sometimes mistakes happen. A missed or delayed dose, broken condom, or other contraception failure can leave you unprotected during intercourse. Seeking emergency contraception soon after unprotected sex can effectively prevent pregnancy in many cases. Emergency contraception is available through your gynecologist or over the counter, depending on the method. 

Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception (EC) comes in two forms: pills and intrauterine devices. Both types of EC prevent pregnancy by disrupting your cycle so that you don't ovulate. Without ovulation, there is no egg for the sperm to fertilize. EC must be used as soon as possible after intercourse. The time range for efficacy is limited to 3-5 days, depending on the type of EC.

Intrauterine Device

The copper intrauterine device (IUD) provides the most effective pregnancy prevention when used for EC. An ob-gyn provider can put the IUD in place during an office visit. However, it must be done within 5 days of unprotected intercourse. The IUD can remain in place for up to 10 years for long-term birth control if desired. 

Prescription Pills

EC pills are sometimes referred to as "the morning-after pill." Ulipristal is a pill available only by prescription. It has the highest efficacy rate of any other morning-after pill. You must take ulipristal within 5 days of unprotected intercourse.

Over-the-Counter Pills

Levonorgestrel is a type of over-the-counter EC. This progestin-only pill is available in pharmacies under the brand name Plan B One-Step. Levonorgestrel should be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex for the highest efficacy. It can be taken up to five days after sex but with decreased efficacy. This drug is less effective than ulipristal, but easier to obtain because it doesn't require a prescription.

Regular Birth Control Pills

Higher doses of your regular birth control pills can be used as EC if they contain a combination of progestin and estrogen. Contact your provider to determine the dosage needed. To provide emergency contraception, combination birth control pills must be taken in two doses soon after intercourse. Administer the second dose 12 hours after the first dose.

Side Effects

Some people experience side effects after using EC. IUDs cause heavier than normal menstrual cramps and bleeding in the first year of use. Morning-after pills sometimes cause nausea, vomiting, spotting, headaches, breast tenderness, and abdominal pain. Morning-after pills may be less effective for preventing pregnancy in women who are obese.

After EC

Because EC disrupts your ovulation schedule, your next cycle may come earlier or later than expected. Women with a late period should take a pregnancy test in case the EC failed. Women who normally take birth control pills should wait 5-7 days before resuming their normal doses, depending on the type of EC they used. Use barrier methods for sex until your next menstrual cycle begins.  

For more info, contact a local gynecologist


Spotlight on Reproductive Health

When I was growing up, I always knew that I wanted to have children, but I wanted to wait until I had graduated from college and had a stable career to have one. One I was married and settled down, we began attempting to conceive, but with no luck. I almost gave up on having a child before I even consulted my OBGYN about my problem. She gave me many helpful tips for conceiving and after following her tips, I finally became pregnant with my first child! I think that more women need to become informed about their reproductive health and what affects it, so I decided to start a blog to share tips my OBGYN has given me and advice about other female health topics that I have learned since. I hope I can help you learn more about female health!


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