The morning after pill
You missed a pill, or the condom broke, or you just forgot to use one. Here's your guide to emergency contraception and the morning after pill.
What emergency contraception is available?
There are two forms of emergency hormonal contraception intended for use by women who have had unprotected sex: the emergency pill and the IUD device.
How is the morning after pill taken?
The term 'the morning after pill', is actually misleading. It can be taken up to three days after unprotected sex, but no later.
The sooner you take it, the more effective it is. Most types contain levels of synthetic oestrogen with progestogen - hormones that are similar to those found in the body - and work by preventing the egg from being implanted in the womb.
The emergency pill shouldn't be regarded as a contraceptive choice like the condom, diaphragm or the pill. This is because it can only be used occasionally to be 100% effective. Instead, consider it as a fail-safe should something go wrong with your chosen form of birth control.
(Note that if you're unable to use an oestrogen-based hormonal contraceptive, ask your doctor to prescribe a progestogen-based emergency pill.)
45% of you who responded to TheSite.org's Sexual Health Survey have used emergency contraception.
One recently publicised pill, Ellaone, can be used up to five days after unprotected. It is 66% effective if taken within the usual morning after pill window of 72 hours, and 50 per cent effective after 120 hours (five days). As it is only available on prescription, Ellaone is unlikely to become the main method of emergency contraception at the moment.
How does the IUD work?
The IUD (or 'coil') is a small, copper device that must be fitted inside the uterus by a doctor within five days of unprotected sex. It works in the same way as the emergency contraceptive pill, but can be fitted up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex.
It must be worn until your next period (when you're sure you aren't pregnant). It can also work as a regular contraceptive (but will only protect against pregnancy and not sex infections). Always discuss this with your doctor first.
Does emergency contraception cause an abortion?
No. Both methods work by preventing the egg from implanting in the womb - whether or not it has been fertilised.
- Some women who take the morning after pill may experience short-term side effects such as dizziness or nausea. If vomitting occurs within two hours of taking a pill, see your doctor. This is because the pill is absorbed into the body via the digestive system and throwing up could mess with its effectiveness as a contraceptive.
- Neither the emergency contraceptive pill or the IUD protect against sex infection - if you've had unprotected sex you may want to have an STI test.
- Drawbacks to the IUD include a risk of heavy periods, spotting and possible pelvic infection.
Both the morning after pill and the IUD are available freely from a doctor at your local surgery, sexual health clinic, GUM centre or Brook Centre. You can find your nearest one by using the Brook or NHS Choices website. If you're over 16, the emergency pill is also available over the counter from selected chemists. It is often free for under 25s but otherwise it costs around £25. In every case, it's vital that you seek help fast to keep your options open. If youre worried about finding an open clinic or chemist, then give your GP, the fpa or Brook a call.
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