Until you need it, you may not give emergency contraception, which is often called the “morning-after pill,” a second thought. However, having unprotected sex or your contraception failing could cause you to worry about getting pregnant. Your mind could race, wondering where you could get access to the pills and how they could affect your body.
It can ease your mind. Emergency contraception itself is not scary at all. The oldest form, Plan B, is just a higher dose of levonorgestrel, the hormone used in regular birth control pills. A newer form, she, contains ulipristal, a non-hormonal drug that blocks hormones necessary for pregnancy. Like birth control pills, emergency contraceptive pills are not usually hard to come by. You can get them with a prescription or without a prescription.
If you’ve never used emergency contraception before, or even if you have, you may have questions. Here are 10 things to know about how it works and what to expect.
1. Both types work in a similar way
Both hormonal and non-hormonal emergency contraception prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs, preventing fertilization. The non-hormonal pill goes one step further. It also makes it harder for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterus and grow. Let’s be clear: these pills do not harm an existing pregnancy or cause an abortion. Those are common misconceptions.
2. Time issues
No emergency contraception is 100% effective. How well it works depends on when you take it and at what point in your cycle you had sex. A hormone-based pill taken within 24 hours can be 95% effective. Research shows that its effectiveness drops to 61% if you take it between 48 hours and 72 hours after having unprotected sex.
Non-hormonal pills are more effective for a longer period of time. They reduce your chance of getting pregnant by 85% if you take one within five days. Basically though, the sooner you can take either medication the better.
3. Weight can affect effectiveness
Emergency contraception generally works well, but your weight can affect how it works in some cases. According to the CDC, emergency contraception is less effective in women who are considered obese (those who have a body mass index of 30 or more).
Clinical evidence shows that a non-hormonal pill is effective for women who weigh more than 155 pounds, but it may not work as well for women who weigh more than 195 pounds. On the other hand, there is a general consensus that being overweight hinders the effectiveness of hormone-based pills. So if you are in that group, talk to your doctor.
4. Side effects are rare, but possible
You may have heard horror stories that emergency contraception will make you very sick. Fortunately, that is a myth. Most women can take it without problems. Any problem you have must happen within 24 hours. If they last longer than 48 hours, contact a healthcare provider.
Headache and nausea are the most common side effects. If you vomit within two to three hours after taking it, call your doctor, as you may need another dose. Other side effects are also possible, including a heavier period, lower abdominal pain, dizziness, cramps, and fatigue.
5. Taking a dose can affect your period
You can expect your next period to be a little different after taking emergency contraception. Your cycle could start sooner or later. Your flow could be heavier, lighter, or irregular. These are all normal results, so don’t worry. However, if your cycle is more than a week late, consider taking a pregnancy test and talking to your doctor.
6. Additional contraceptive measures will be needed
It is safe to take emergency contraception while using other forms of birth control. You will simply need to take extra steps over time to protect yourself from pregnancy. With hormone-based pills, restart your birth control right away and use barrier protection, such as condoms, for seven days.
It is a bit more complicated with a pill that does not contain hormones. If you only miss one dose of your birth control prescription, restart it right away. If it’s been more than a week without it, wait six days before resuming your normal routine. Do the same if you have just started using birth control. Restarting too early can weaken emergency contraception. And be sure to use condoms for at least a week.
7. Breastfeeding is safe
If you are currently breastfeeding, you can breathe easily. Research shows that emergency contraception has no long-term effect on your baby’s feeding.
With a hormone-based pill, you don’t need to change your breastfeeding schedule at all. However, it is best to “express and empty” for at least 24 hours after taking the non-hormonal pills, as the drug can pass into breast milk. The highest concentrations appear within one to three hours, but small amounts can remain for five days.
8. The safety of multiple doses per cycle depends on the type of pill
Both hormonal and non-hormonal pills should only be used in emergency situations. However, you can safely use hormone-based pills more than once per menstrual cycle. Just be careful because multiple uses can increase your chances of getting pregnant and have a bigger impact on your period.
In contrast, a non-hormonal pill should only be used once per cycle. If you take one, don’t use a hormone-based pill during the same cycle.
9. Using emergency contraception as a regular method of contraception is not a good option.
Although emergency contraception can help prevent pregnancy, you should not use it as your regular method of birth control. A daily regimen of standard birth control pills gives you constant protection. It offers you peace of mind and can also be better for your bank account. Relying on emergency contraception can be expensive – each dose ranges from $ 20 to $ 50.
10. A copper IUD is the most effective emergency contraceptive
Emergency contraceptive pills are effective, but you may not know that the most effective emergency contraception option is actually something different. It is a copper intrauterine device (IUD).
This device works in two ways. Copper not only kills sperm, it also causes inflammation in the uterus. That makes it almost impossible for a pregnancy to occur. IUDs are 99% effective, and your doctor may implant one for up to five days after unprotected sex.
The need to use emergency contraception can be a scary idea. Actually, taking it doesn’t have to be. When used correctly, hormone-based or non-hormonal pills reduce the chances that you will get pregnant if you have unprotected sex. Just keep all of the above in mind and choose the option that’s right for you.