Planned Parenthood

Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)

Is Emergency Contraception Right for Me?

Accidents happen — that's why we have emergency contraception (also known as the morning-after pill). Here are some of the most common questions we hear women ask about emergency contraception. We hope the answers help you decide if it is right for you.  


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What Is the Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)?

Emergency contraception is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. There are two kinds of emergency contraception:

  • Emergency contraception pills, commonly called the morning-after pill. There are two types of pills:
    • Levonorgestrel pills, including the brands Next Choice One Dose and Plan B One-Step
    • Ulipristal acetate, known by the brand name ella
  • ParaGard IUD insertion

Both kinds of emergency contraception can be used up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected intercourse. You may want to use it if

  • you weren't using any birth control when you had sex
  • you forgot to take your birth control pills, patch, ring, or other birth control method
  • your partner's condom broke or slipped off
  • your partner didn't pull out in time or
  • you were forced to have unprotected vaginal sex.

How Does the Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception) Work?

Pregnancy doesn't happen right after sex. That's why it's possible to prevent pregnancy even after the fact. It can take up to six days for the sperm and egg to meet after having sex. Emergency contraception pills work by keeping a woman's ovary from releasing an egg for longer than usual. Pregnancy cannot happen if there is no egg to join with sperm.

You might have also heard that the morning-after pill causes an abortion. But that's not true. The morning-after pill is not the abortion pill. Emergency contraception is birth control, not abortion.

What About the Copper IUD as Emergency Contraception?

ParaGard IUD can be used as emergency contraception if inserted by a health care provider within 120 hours (five days) after unprotected intercourse. It is 99.9 percent effective, even on day five, and can be left in as ongoing birth control for as long as you want, up to 12 years. This makes it the most effective type of emergency contraception out there. While IUDs can be more expensive upfront (ranging from $500 to $900), they are more economical because they can be left in as extremely effective birth control for years. Talk with your health care provider if you're interested in getting an IUD.

The ParaGard IUD is safe for most women, but check out our IUD page to learn about potential risk factors.

How Effective Is the Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)?

Levonogestrel pills, including the brands Plan B One-Step and Next Choice One Dose, are up to 89 percent effective when taken within 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex. They continue to reduce the risk of pregnancy up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex, but they are less effective as time passes.

ella is 85 percent effective if taken within 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex. It stays just as effective as time passes after sex.

The morning-after pill will not prevent pregnancy for any unprotected sex you may have after taking the pills.

However, the ParaGard IUD can be used as highly effective, ongoing birth control for as long as you want, up to 12 years after insertion.

Levonogestrel pills may not work as well for women who have a body mass index (BMI) of more than 25. The IUD or ella are better options for overweight women who need emergency contraception.

Does My Weight Affect Which Kind of Emergency Contraception I Can Use?

Yes, it does. The most effective option for people of any weight is getting a ParaGard IUD by a nurse or doctor.

If you’d rather take a pill, ella is the brand of EC that works best--no matter what you weigh. But If you have a body mass index (BMI) that’s higher than 35, it’s less effective (but still worth a shot if you can’t get an IUD). Click here to learn more about ella.

If the IUD or ella aren’t options for you, it’s perfectly safe to take Plan B One-Step or Next Choice One Dose. But if you have a body mass index (BMI) that's higher than 25, it's less effective. If you have a body mass index (BMI) that's higher than 30, it may not work at all.

How Safe Is the Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)?

Emergency contraception is safe, and millions of women have used it. Various forms of emergency contraception have been used for more than 30 years. There have been no reports of serious complications.

What Are the Disadvantages of the Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)?

There have been no reports of serious complications among the millions of women who have used the morning-after pill. Side effects are uncommon, and usually stop within a day or two. Possible side effects include

  • an earlier or later, heavier or lighter period than usual
  • breast tenderness, dizziness, or headaches, and 
  • nausea or vomiting. If you vomit within two hours of taking the pill(s), it won't be effective and you need to take it again.

Frequent use may cause periods to become irregular and unpredictable. Emergency contraception should not be used as a form of ongoing birth control because there are other forms of birth control that are a lot more effective and less expensive.

Emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. You may want to consider getting tested if there is a possibility that unprotected sex put you at risk.

How Do I Get the Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)?

Anyone — no matter how old you are — can buy Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose and some other brands of emergency contraception over the counter without a prescription at a drugstore. 

A few brands of emergency contraception (brands with two pills instead of one pill) require you get a prescription from a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider if you're 16 or younger. All women need a prescription for ella.

You can also get emergency contraception at a Planned Parenthood health center, or family planning clinic. If you want ella, you can also go to http://www.ella-kwikmed.com/ to get a prescription and buy ella online.

Since emergency contraception works better the sooner you take it, it’s a good idea to get emergency contraception before you need it just in case. That way you’ll have it on hand if an accident happens, and you won’t have to worry about running out to a drugstore or waiting to get an appointment for a prescription. You can buy After Pill, a generic brand of emergency contraception, online in advance for only $20 at AfterPill.com.

How Much Does the Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception) Cost?

The cost of emergency contraception varies a great deal depending on your insurance, where you live, and whether you get it from the drugstore or a health center. It may cost anywhere from $30 to $65.

Family planning clinics usually charge less than private health care providers and drugstores. Planned Parenthood works to make health care accessible and affordable. Some health centers are able to charge according to income. Most accept health insurance. If you qualify, Medicaid or other state programs may lower your health care costs. 

Call your local Planned Parenthood health center to get specific information on costs.

How Do I Use the Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)?

Take the morning-after pill as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse. It will reduce your risk of pregnancy if you start it up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected intercourse.

Some brands have one pill, and some have two. The instructions on brands with two pills may say to take the pills 12 hours apart. But research shows it is just as effective and safe to take both pills at the same time.

After you take emergency contraception, it's normal for your next period to be different from usual.

  • It may be earlier or later than usual.
  • It may be heavier, lighter, more spotty, or the same as usual.

Be sure to tell any health care provider that you may see before your next period that you have taken the morning-after pill. If you do not have your period within three weeks after taking emergency contraception, or if you have any symptoms of pregnancy, take a pregnancy test or schedule an appointment with your health care provider.

Can I Use Regular Birth Control Pills as Emergency Contraception?

Yes, certain brands of birth control pills can be used in increased doses as emergency contraception. The Emergency Contraception Website has information about what brands of pills can be used and how to use them.

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Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)