Emergency Contraception (Morning-After Pill) at a Glance
- Birth control you can use to prevent pregnancy up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex
- Safe and effective
- Available without a prescription if 17 or older
- Costs vary from $10 to $70
Accidents happen. That's why we have the morning-after pill (also known as emergency contraception). Did you have intercourse without using protection? Did you forget to use your birth control correctly? Did the condom break, leaving you worried about becoming pregnant? If so, emergency contraception might be a good choice for you.
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.
What Is Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception (the morning-after pill) is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. It can be started up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected intercourse.
You may want to use it if:
- The condom broke or slipped off, and they ejaculated in your vagina.
- You forgot to take your birth control pills, insert your ring, or apply your patch.
- Your diaphragm or cap slipped out of place, and they ejaculated inside your vagina.
- You miscalculated your "safe" days.
- They didn't pull out in time.
- You weren't using any birth control.
- You were forced to have unprotected vaginal sex.
Emergency contraception is also known as the morning-after pill, emergency birth control, backup birth control, and by the brand names Plan B One-Step, ella, and Next Choice.
Many people call emergency contraception the "morning-after pill." But that name is a little confusing. You can use emergency contraception up to five days after unprotected intercourse — not just the "morning after."
How Does Emergency Contraception Work?
Emergency contraception is made of one of the hormones found in birth control pills — progestin. Hormones are chemicals made in our bodies. They control how different parts of the body work.
The hormone in the morning-after pill works by keeping a person's ovaries from releasing eggs — ovulation. Pregnancy cannot happen if there is no egg to join with sperm. The hormone in the morning-after pill also prevents pregnancy by thickening a woman's cervical mucus. The mucus blocks sperm and keeps it from joining with an egg.
The hormone also thins the lining of the uterus. In theory, this could prevent pregnancy by keeping a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.
You might have also heard that emergency contraception causes an abortion. But that's not true. Emergency contraception is not the abortion pill. Emergency contraception is birth control, not abortion. A Paragard IUD can also be used as backup birth control if inserted within 120 hours — five days — after unprotected intercourse. It is 99.9 percent effective. Talk with your health care provider if you're interested in getting an IUD.
How Effective Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception can be started up to 120 hours — five days — after unprotected intercourse. The sooner it is started, the better it works.
Emergency contraception is also known as the morning-after pill, emergency birth control, backup birth control, and by the brand names Plan B One-Step, ella, and Next Choice. Plan B One-Step and Next Choice reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent when started within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. They continue to reduce the risk of pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse, but they are less effective as time passes.
You need to use emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after each time you have unprotected intercourse. Emergency contraception will not prevent pregnancy for any unprotected intercourse you may have after taking the pills. If you do not have your period within three weeks after taking emergency contraception, you may want to consider taking a pregnancy test.
Emergency contraception offers no protection against sexually transmitted infections. You may want to consider STI testing if there is a possibility that unprotected sex put you at risk.
How Safe Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception is safe. Even though it's made of the same hormone as the birth control pill, emergency contraception does not have the same risks as taking the pill or other hormonal birth control methods continuously. That's because the hormone in emergency contraception is not in your body as long as it is with ongoing birth control.
Millions of people have used emergency contraception. It has been used for more than 30 years. There have been no reports of serious complications.
What Are the Disadvantages of Emergency Contraception?
You may have some undesirable side effects while using emergency contraception but many people use Plan B One-Step, ella, and Next Choice with few or no problems.
Nausea and throwing up are the most common side effects. Less than 1 out of 4 people feel sick when they take them. You can use anti-nausea medicine one hour before taking emergency contraception if you are concerned about being nauseous. Many people also find it helpful to take the emergency contraception pills with a full stomach.
Other side effects of the morning-after pill may include
- breast tenderness
- irregular bleeding
If you use emergency contraception frequently, it may cause your period to be irregular. 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.
How Do I Get Emergency Contraception?
Plan B One-Step and Next Choice are available from drugstores and health centers without a prescription for people 17 and older. If you are interested in getting emergency contraception and are 17 or older, you can either get it directly from a Planned Parenthood health center or from your local drugstore. If you are younger than 17, you'll need to go to a health center or private health care provider for a prescription. ella is not available over the counter at drugstores, but you can get it with a prescription.
We all like to be prepared. That is why it's a great idea to keep some emergency contraception in your medicine cabinet or bedside table in case of an accident. Having emergency contraception on hand will let you take it as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse, when it is most effective. If you are younger than 17, you can ask your health care provider for a prescription that you can fill ahead of time. Emergency contraception is safe, effective, and should be widely available but because of certain policies and personal bias, some people may have a hard time getting it. If you are having trouble getting emergency contraception from your local pharmacy or health care provider, contact your local Planned Parenthood health center. We can help you get the medicine you need.
How Much Does Emergency Contraception Cost?
The cost of emergency contraception varies a great deal. It may cost anywhere from $10 to $70. If you are not 17 and need a prescription, the health center visit may cost up to $250, depending on where you live.
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.
How Do I Use Emergency Contraception?
Take emergency contraception as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse. The sooner you start it, the better it will work. But it will reduce your risk of pregnancy if you start it up to 120 hours — five days — after unprotected intercourse.
You can use anti-nausea medicine one hour before taking emergency contraception if you are concerned about getting nauseated. Many people also find it helpful to take the emergency contraception pills with a full stomach.
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 emergency contraception. 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.