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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 (AKA Emergency Contraception)?

Emergency contraception is a safe way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. There are different types of emergency contraception, and some work better than others.

There are 2 ways to prevent pregnancy after you have unprotected sex:

Option 1: Get a ParaGard IUD within 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex. This is the most effective type of emergency contraception.

Option 2: Take an emergency contraceptive pill (AKA the morning-after pill) within 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex. There are 2 types of morning-after pills:

A pill with ulipristal acetate. There’s only one brand, called ella.

  • You need a prescription from a nurse or doctor to get ella, but you can get a fast medical consultation and prescription with next-day delivery online at www.ella-kwikmed.com.
     
  • ella is the most effective type of morning-after pill.
     
  • You can take ella up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex, and it works just as well on day 5 as it does on day 1.
     
  • If you’ve used the birth control pill, patch, or ring within the last 5 days, ella might not work as well as other morning after pills (like Plan B).

A pill with levonorgestrel. Brand names include: Plan B One Step, Next Choice One Dose, Take Action, My Way, AfterPill, and others.

  • You can buy these morning-after pills over the counter without a prescription in most drugstores and pharmacies.
     
  • These types of morning-after pills work best when you take them within 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex, but you can take them up to 5 days after. The sooner you take them, the better they work.

The morning-after pill is NOT the same thing as the abortion pill. If you’re already pregnant, the morning-after pill won’t affect your pregnancy.

You can use emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy if: 

  • you didn’t use a condom or other birth control method when you had vaginal sex 
     
  • you messed up your regular birth control (forgot to take your birth control pills, change your patch or ring, or get your shot on time) and had vaginal sex
     
  • your condom broke or slipped off after ejaculation (cumming)
     
  • your partner didn't pull out in time
     
  • Someone forced you to have unprotected vaginal sex

If you use emergency contraception correctly after you have unprotected sex, it makes it much less likely that you’ll get pregnant. But don’t use it regularly as your only protection from pregnancy, because it’s not as effective as regular, non-emergency birth control methods (like the IUD, pill, or condoms).

If you have sex (or think you might have it in the future), read about your birth control options or visit your local Planned Parenthood health center to find the best method of birth control for you.

What Kind of Emergency Contraception Is Best For Me?

The best emergency contraception (EC) for you depends on a few things:

  • When you had unprotected sex
  • Which kind of EC is easiest for you to get
  • Your height and weight (called your Body Mass Index or BMI)
  • Whether you’re breastfeeding.
  • If you’ve used the pill, patch, or ring in the last 5 days

It’s best to use the most effective method of EC that you can. But the more effective methods, like the IUD and ella, can be harder to get. The IUD has to be put in by a nurse or doctor, and you need a prescription to get ella. You can order ella online, but it can take a day to get it in the mail — so depending on when you had unprotected sex, there may not be enough time.

Plan B is less effective than the IUD and ella, especially if you take it more than 3 days (72 hours) after sex or have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI). But Plan B and other types of levonorgestrel morning-after pills are the easiest to get. You don’t need a prescription, and anybody can buy them over the counter at drugstores, no matter your age or gender.

If you need emergency contraception because you made a mistake with your birth control pills, patch, ring, or shot, ella might not work as well as Plan B. The hormones in these birth control methods can affect how well ella works. If you have questions about the best type of emergency contraception for you, call your local Planned Parenthood health center

Don’t use two different kinds of morning-after pills (like Plan B and ella) at the same time, because they may counteract each other and not work at all. And don’t take more than one dose of either type of morning-after pill — it won’t give you extra protection from pregnancy, but it can make you feel sick.

If you can’t get the most effective types of emergency contraception, remember that using whichever kind you can get is still better than not using anything at all. And timing is really important. In fact, many people get the morning-after pill ahead of time and keep it in their medicine cabinet, so if they need it, they can take it as soon as possible.


How Long Do I Have to Get Emergency Contraception?

Plan B, My Way, Next Choice, and other levonorgestrel morning-after pills work best when you take them quickly after unprotected sex. They’ll work best up to 3 days (72 hours) after unprotected sex. You can take these up to 5 days (120 hours) after sex, but they don’t work nearly as well by day 5.

You can take ella up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. It works just as well on day 5 as it does on day 1.

You can get the ParaGard (copper) IUD inserted up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. It works just as well on day 5 as it does on day 1.

One of the most convenient things about getting a ParaGard IUD as emergency contraception is that it keeps giving you SUPER effective birth control for up to 12 years (or until you want it taken out). So once you get an IUD, you won’t have to worry about emergency contraception again until you stop using the IUD.


How Much Does the Morning-After Pill or Copper IUD Cost?

If you're worried about the price of morning-after pills or getting an IUD, call your local Planned Parenthood health center (or other public health clinics) to see if they can help you get emergency contraception and other types of birth control for free or low-cost.

How Much Are Morning-After Pills?

Plan B One-Step usually costs about $40-$50. Other brands like Next Choice One Dose, Take Action, and My Way generally cost less — about $35-$45. You can also order a generic brand called AfterPill online at www.afterpill.com for $20 + $5 shipping. (AfterPill can’t be shipped quick enough to use if you need a morning-after pill right now, but you can buy it and put it in your medicine cabinet in case you need it in the future.) Though there are many different brands of these kinds of morning-after pills, they all work the same way.

ella usually costs about $50 or more at the pharmacy or drugstore (but you need a prescription to get it). It costs $59 when you order it online at www.ella-kwikmed.com — this price includes the medical consultation, prescription, and shipping. ella is the only brand of this type of morning-after pill.

Most health insurance and Medicaid plans cover both types of morning-after pills at no cost to you, but you may need a prescription in order for health insurance to pay for it. Some state Medicaid plans offer free morning-after pills without a prescription.

If you have health insurance that covers emergency contraception, you can ask your doctor to write you a prescription for morning-after pills the next time you visit — and then you'll have free emergency contraception to keep in your medicine cabinet in case you need it. Or you may be able to get a prescription for morning-after pills directly from your pharmacist, depending on where you live.

How Much Are IUDs?

Getting an IUD costs anywhere between $0-$900. That’s a pretty wide range, but the good news is that IUDs are free or low cost with many health insurance plans, Medicaid, and some other government programs. And even if an IUD costs a lot up front, they usually end up saving you money in the long run because they give you really effective birth control for up to 12 years.

How Does Emergency Contraception Prevent Pregnancy?

Pregnancy doesn't happen right after you have sex — that's why it's possible to prevent pregnancy a few days after you do it. It’s all about timing.

Sperm can live inside your body for up to 6 days after sex, waiting for an egg to show up. If you ovulate during that time, the sperm can meet up with your egg and cause pregnancy. Morning-after pills work by temporarily stopping your ovary from releasing an egg. It’s kind of like pulling the emergency brake on ovulation.

Where you’re at in your menstrual cycle and how soon you take morning-after pills can affect how well they prevent pregnancy. Morning-after pills won’t work if your body has already started ovulating.

This is why timing is so important, especially if you’re using Plan B and other levonorgestrel morning-after pills. (ella works closer to the time of ovulation than levonorgestrel morning-after pills like Plan B.) Most people don’t know exactly when they ovulate, so it’s best to use emergency contraception as soon as possible — no matter where you are in your menstrual cycle or whether or not you think you’re about to ovulate.

The ParaGard IUD prevents pregnancy for up to 5 days after unprotected sex because sperm doesn’t like copper. So the copper in the ParaGard IUD makes it hard for sperm to swim well enough to get to your egg.

The morning-after pill is NOT the same thing as the abortion pill (also called medication abortion or RU-486). The morning-after pill doesn’t cause an abortion. It won’t work if you’re already pregnant, and it won’t harm an existing pregnancy. Emergency contraception (including the IUD) is birth control, not abortion. It doesn’t end a pregnancy — it prevents one.

Is the Morning-After Pill Safe?

Emergency contraception is safe — millions of people have used different kinds of emergency contraception for more than 30 years. There have been no reports of serious complications.

Taking the morning-after pill more than once won’t hurt you. But it’s not a good idea to use the morning-after pill as your regular, go-to method of birth control. That’s because:

  • The morning-after pill doesn’t prevent pregnancy as well as other forms of birth control like the IUD, implant, shot, pill, patch, or ring.
     
  • Taking the morning-after pill over and over again is more expensive than being on a regular method of birth control.
     
  • The morning-after pill can cause temporary side effects that are harmless but annoying (like bleeding between periods or nausea).

So it’s totally safe to take the morning-after pill as many times as you need to — it’s just not the best way to prevent unintended pregnancies long-term. Birth control that you use before or during sex (like the IUD, implant, pill, condoms, etc.) is way more effective, affordable, and convenient.

One of the most convenient things about getting a ParaGard IUD as emergency contraception is that it keeps giving you SUPER effective birth control for up to 12 years (or until you want it taken out). So once you get an IUD, you won’t have to worry about emergency contraception again until you stop using the IUD.

How Does the Copper IUD Work as Emergency Contraception?

The ParaGard IUD is the most effective type of emergency contraception. It works up to 5 days after unprotected sex, and it keeps on preventing pregnancy for up to 12 years (or until you have it taken out). The copper in the ParaGard IUD prevents pregnancy by making it hard for sperm to swim to an egg.

The ParaGard (copper) IUD lowers your chances of getting pregnant by more than 99.9 percent if you get it put in within 5 days of unprotected sex. It’s the most effective kind of emergency contraception there is. And unlike morning-after pills, it works the same no matter how much you weigh. 

One of the most convenient things about getting an IUD as emergency contraception is that it keeps giving you super-effective birth control for up to 12 years (or until you want it taken out). So once you get an IUD, you won’t have to think about emergency contraception again until you stop using the IUD.

How do I use the IUD as emergency contraception?

In order for the copper IUD to work as emergency contraception, a doctor or nurse must put it in within 5 days after you have unprotected sex. Call your doctor, local family planning clinic, or your nearest Planned Parenthood health center as soon as you realize you need emergency contraception. It can be hard to get an appointment for an IUD insertion on short notice, so call as quickly as possible.

At your appointment, a doctor or nurse will put the copper IUD into your uterus, and that’s it — you don’t have to do anything else. The copper in the ParaGard IUD prevents pregnancy by messing with the way sperm moves, so it’s hard for sperm to swim well enough to get to an egg.

Once the IUD is in place, you get great emergency contraception AND long-lasting birth control all at once. Learn more about the IUD.

If you can’t get an appointment to have an IUD put in within 5 days after you have unprotected sex, take a morning-after pill like ella or Plan B as soon as possible. Morning-after pills aren’t as effective at preventing pregnancy as the IUD is, but they’re definitely better than doing nothing at all.

Does the ParaGard IUD have side effects?

Serious problems with the IUD are rare, and millions of people have used it safely.

Some people have annoying but harmless side effects after getting an IUD. They usually go away in about 3 – 6 months, once your body gets used to having the IUD in your uterus.

Side effects of the copper IUD can include:

  • mild to moderate pain when the IUD is put in
  • cramping or backaches for a few days after you get the IUD put in
  • spotting between periods
  • heavier periods and worse menstrual cramps

Pain medicine (like Advil or Tylenol) can usually help with cramping. 

Where can I get an IUD?

Contact your gynecologist, a family planning clinic, or your local Planned Parenthood health center to make an appointment to get an IUD.

Getting an IUD costs anywhere between $0 to $900. That’s a pretty wide range, but the good news is that IUDs are free or low cost with many health insurance plans, Medicaid, and some other government programs. And even if an IUD costs a lot up front, they usually end up saving you money in the long run because they give you really effective birth control for up to 12 years.

Planned Parenthood works to provide you with the services you need, whether or not you have insurance. Many Planned Parenthood health centers charge less for services depending on your income. If you’re worried about cost, check with your local Planned Parenthood health center to see if they can hook you up with emergency contraception and other birth control that fits your budget.

What’s the ella Morning-After Pill?

ella is emergency contraception that prevents pregnancy up to 5 days after sex. It’s more effective than other morning-after pills, but you need a prescription to get it.

ella lowers your chances of getting pregnant by 85 percent if you take it within 5 days after unprotected sex.

Unlike other morning-after pills, ella doesn’t get less effective as time passes after sex. ella is also more effective than other morning-after pills for people with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI). But if your BMI is very high, it may not work as well as the copper IUD. Ella may also not work as well if you’re currently using the birth control pill, patch, ring, or shot.

How do I take the ella morning-after pill?

Take ella within 5 days (120 hours) after you have unprotected sex. Simply swallow the tablet the way you would any other pill. Read the instructions that come in the package for more information.

If you’re breastfeeding, don’t use ella unless you’re OK with pumping and throwing away your milk for 36 hours after taking it.

You can take ella up to 5 days after unprotected sex, and it works just as well on day 1 as it does on day 5. But it’s still a good idea to get it as soon as you can so you make sure to take it within the 5 day window. You need a prescription from a doctor to get ella. You can order ella online with next-day delivery at www.ella-kwikmed.com.

If you’re on another method of hormonal birth control (like the pill, ring, patch, or shot), it’s important to use a backup method of birth control (like condoms or female condoms) after taking ella, until you get your next period. Ella may affect how well your regular birth control method works for a short time after you use it, so use condoms as a backup until your next period.

Take a pregnancy test if you don’t get your period within 3 weeks after taking ella.

If you take ella and you end up needing emergency contraception again before your next period, make sure you take ella again and not Plan B or other levonorgestrel morning-after pills.

Does ella have side effects?

ella is super safe, and side effects aren’t common. There have been no reports of any serious complications from taking ella.

After you take ella, it's totally normal for your next period to be different from what you’re used to. It may come earlier or later, and be heavier, lighter, or more spotty. Or, it may be the same as it normally is.

This isn’t common, but you may get an upset stomach when you take the morning-after pill. If you throw up within 2 hours of taking ella, it won’t work and you’ll need to take it again.

Where can I get ella?

You need a prescription to get ella. Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to get a prescription directly from your pharmacist, without seeing a doctor or visiting a health center. It’s a good idea to call the drugstore or pharmacy first before you pick it up, to make sure they have it in stock.

You can also get ella at many family planning or health department clinics, and at your local Planned Parenthood health center.

The easiest way to get ella is online. You can get a fast medical consultation and prescription with next-day delivery through this website: www.ella-kwikmed.com.

ella usually costs about $50 or more at the pharmacy or drugstore. It costs $59 when you order it online at www.ella-kwikmed.com (this price includes the medical consultation and shipping).

Some health insurance plans cover the morning-after pill. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or health insurance provider for more information about using insurance to pay for ella.

You may be able to get ella for free or low cost from a Planned Parenthood health center or your local health department. Call your nearest Planned Parenthood to find out if they can hook you up with emergency contraception that fits your budget. The staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center can also help you figure out if your insurance will pay for your morning-after pill.

Because timing is super important when it comes to the morning-after pill and it may take a while to get a prescription, call your doctor or your local Planned Parenthood health center as soon as you can.

Since the morning-after pill works better the sooner you take it, it’s a good idea to buy it BEFORE you need it. You can to keep it in your medicine cabinet and it will be there for you, just in case. That way you can take it as soon as possible if an accident happens, and you won’t have to worry about getting a prescription when you’re totally stressed out.

What’s the Plan B Morning-After Pill?

You can get levonorgestrel morning-after pills like Plan B One Step, Next Choice One Dose, Take Action, My Way, and AfterPill at your local drugstore or pharmacy — and you don’t need a prescription. These types of morning-after pills can lower your chances of getting pregnant by 75-89% if you take them within 3 days after unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better it works.

You can take Plan B, My Way, Next Choice, and other levonorgestrel morning-after pills up to 5 days after unprotected sex. But the longer you wait to take it, the less effective it is.

These types of morning-after pills are also less effective if you have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI). If that’s the case, the copper IUD or ella are better options for you. 

Though there are many different brands of levonorgestrel morning-after pills, they all work the same way. One brand doesn’t work any better than another.

How do I take Plan B and other levonorgestrel morning-after pills?

Take levonorgestrel morning-after pills (like Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Take Action, My Way, and AfterPill) as soon as you can after unprotected sex. Simply swallow the tablet the way you would any other pill. Read the instructions that come in the package for more information.

You can take these morning-after pills up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but they work much better if you take them during the first 3 days.

Take a pregnancy test if you haven’t gotten your period within 3 weeks after taking the morning-after pill.

Don’t take Plan B One-Step or other levonorgestrel morning-after pills if you’ve taken ella since your last period. And don’t take more than 1 dose of any kind of morning-after pill — it won’t give you extra protection from pregnancy, but it can make you feel nauseous.

Does the Plan B morning-after pill have side effects?

The morning-after pill is super safe, and side effects aren’t super common. There have been no reports of serious problems out of the millions of people who’ve taken it.

After you take the morning-after pill, it's totally normal for your next period to be different from what you’re used to. It may come earlier or later, and be heavier, lighter, or more spotty. Or it may be the same as it normally is.

You may get an upset stomach, feel lightheaded or dizzy, or have tender breasts for a short while when you take the morning-after pill. If you throw up within 2 hours of taking the pill, it won't work and you’ll need to take it again.

Where can I get the Plan B morning-after pill?

You can buy levonorgestrel morning-after pills (like Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Take Action, and My Way) over the counter without a prescription at drugstores and pharmacies. It doesn’t matter how old you are and it doesn’t matter what your gender is. Sometimes the morning-after pill is locked up or kept behind the counter, so you may have to ask the pharmacist or store clerk for help getting it — but you don’t have to have a prescription or show your ID.

You can also get the morning-after pill at many family planning or health department clinics, and Planned Parenthood health centers.

Plan B One-Step usually costs about $40-$50. Next Choice One Dose, Take Action, and My Way generally cost less — about $35-$45. You can also order a generic brand called AfterPill online at www.afterpill.com for $20 + $5 shipping. (AfterPill can’t be shipped quick enough to use if you need a morning-after pill right now, but you can buy it and put it in your medicine cabinet in case you need it in the future.)

The brand you buy or how much you pay for it doesn’t matter — all levonorgestrel morning-after pills work the same way.

Some health insurance plans cover the morning-after pill, but you may need a prescription in order for your insurance plan to pay for it.

You may be able to get the morning-after pill for free or low cost from a Planned Parenthood health center or your local health department. Call your nearest Planned Parenthood to see if they can hook you up with emergency contraception that fits your budget. The staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center can also help you figure out if your health insurance will pay for your morning-after pill.

Since the morning-after pill works better the sooner you take it, it’s a good idea to buy it BEFORE you need it. You can keep it in your medicine cabinet and it will be there for you, just in case. That way you can take it as soon as possible if an accident happens, and you won’t have to worry about finding it at the store when you’re totally stressed out.

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.

The ParaGard IUD prevents pregnancy 99% of the time when you get it within 5 days of unprotected sex. And you can keep using the IUD 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 if your Body Mass Index (BMI) is more than 25. The IUD or ella are better options if you're overweight and 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.

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Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)