If you've ever had unprotected sex, you know the feeling: the panic, the "what-ifs," and the need for something—anything—to make you feel safer. This is where emergency contraceptive pills come in.
They're an option for women worried about unintended pregnancy after unprotected sex. Still, they're also a good choice if you want to skip taking your daily birth control pill on days when it just doesn't seem like a great idea (or if your hormones are making it hard to remember).
What Are Emergency Contraceptive Pills?
Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) are a type of birth control that you can use after you have unprotected sex, or if there is a risk that your birth control method might fail. You can buy them over the counter from pharmacies without a prescription.
Common Types of Emergency Contraceptive Pills
When you're on the pill, it's easy to think that there are only two options: either you're taking something that prevents pregnancy, or you're not. But there are several different types of emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) out there—and each one works differently.
Here's a quick rundown of the two most common types of emergency contraceptive pills:
- Emergency Contraceptive Pills containing UPA
UPA, or ulipristal, is a progestin-only emergency contraceptive pill (ECP). This ECP is taken by mouth and prevents the body from ovulating. It can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but it should not be used if you are already pregnant.
If taking this medication as a regular birth control method, consult your doctor before taking it within 120 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse.
- Emergency Contraceptive Pills containing LNG
LNG, or levonorgestrel, is one of the most common forms of emergency contraception available. It can be used up to 3 days after unprotected sex. It prevents ovulation and thickens cervical mucus so sperm cannot enter the uterus. When taking this medication, you may experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headache, and breast tenderness.
Emergency Contraceptive Pills vs Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills are a type of oral contraceptive used to prevent pregnancy. They are available in the form of a tablet or a ring.
Emergency contraception is another type of birth control that can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. It is also known as the morning-after pill or Plan B. This article compares the two types of pills and explains how they work.
When to Take Emergency Contraceptive Pills?
The most common reason people use EC pills is that they have unprotected sex. But there are other situations where these pills may be helpful, as indicated by WHO. Emergency contraception can be used in several situations following sexual intercourse. These include:
- When no contraceptive has been used.
- Sexual assault when the woman is not protected by an effective contraceptive method.
- When there is a concern of possible contraceptive failure, from improper or incorrect use, such as: condom breakage, slippage, or incorrect use;
- 3 or more consecutively missed combined oral contraceptive pills or 3 days late during the first week of the cycle;
- If it's more than 3 hours late from the usual time of intake of the progestogen-only pill (mini pill), or more than 27 hours after the previous pill;
- More than 12 hours late from the usual time of intake of the desogestrel-containing pill (0.75 mg) or more than 36 hours after the previous pill;
- If it's more than 2 weeks late for the norethisterone enanthate (NET-EN) progestogen-only injection;
- If there's more than 4 weeks late for the depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) progestogen-only injection;
- more than 7 days late for the combined injectable contraceptive (CIC);
- dislodgment, breakage, tearing, or early removal of a diaphragm or cervical cap;
- failed withdrawal (e.g. ejaculation in the vagina or on external genitalia);
- failure of a spermicide tablet or film to melt before intercourse;
- miscalculation of the abstinence period, or failure to abstain or use a barrier method on the fertile days of the cycle when using fertility awareness-based methods; or
- expulsion of an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) or hormonal contraceptive implant.
An advance supply of ECPs may be given to a woman to ensure that she will have them available when needed and can take as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse. Click here to learn more on WHO’s selected practice recommendations for contraceptive use.
Where to Buy Emergency Contraceptive Pills?
Emergency contraceptive pill, also known as the morning-after pill, is a type of birth control that can be used in case of unprotected sex or if there is a risk of pregnancy. It is safe to use and very effective in preventing pregnancy. If you want to buy emergency contraceptive pills, you can find them at pharmacies, drugstores or family planning centres. You can even buy them online if you have a prescription.
How to Take Emergency Contraceptive Pills?
Emergency contraception pills (ECPs) are a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. They can be taken up to 5 days after intercourse. ECPs are most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, but there is no increased risk of side effects if you use them later than 72 hours after unprotected sex.
The World Health Organization recommends the following doses for emergency contraception:
- ECPs with ulipristal, taken as a single dose of 30 mg;
- ECPs with levonorgestrel taken as a single dose of 1.5 mg or LNG taken in 2 doses of 0.75 mg each, 12 hours apart.
What Are the Emergency Contraceptive Pills Side Effects?
The most common side effects of emergency contraception include the following:
- headaches or dizziness
- breast tenderness
- mood changes such as depression or irritability
- abdominal pain or cramping
- spotting between periods during the first few months of use
- irregular periods after you stop taking it
- or no period at all while you take it regularly
Many women worry about using emergency contraception because they think it will cause them to get pregnant later on down the line if they use it more than once in their lifetime without having unprotected sex again first (which is not true).
But these methods aren't designed for regular use—they're just meant to be used as a backup when you've had unprotected sex and are worried that you might get pregnant.
Image Source: iStock
Oral emergency contraception, or “morning-after pill” is a contraceptive method which prevents pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure. Although commonly called the ‘morning-after- pill, you should take EC as soon as possible after the act. Do not wait till the next morning.
Moreover, EC is also not an abortion pill. It is not able to terminate an already existing pregnancy. EC seems to have no differences in either miscarriage or cause of malformation to the fetus even if pregnancy occurs.
Should you have any more questions about emergency contraceptive pills or other forms of birth control, do not hesitate to consult your gynaecologist.
Updates from Pheona Ilagan
WHO, Planned Parenthood, WebMD
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