Emergency contraception (EC) 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.

Emergency contraception is also known as emergency birth control, backup birth control, the morning after pill, and by the brand name Plan B. The most commonly used kind of emergency contraception is Plan B.

How does emergency contraception work?

Emergency contraception is made of the same hormones found in birth control pills. Hormones are chemicals made in our bodies. They control how different parts of the body work.

The hormones in the morning after pill work by keeping a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs – ovulation. Pregnancy cannot happen if there is no egg to join with sperm. The hormones in the morning after pill also prevent pregnancy by thickening a woman’s cervical mucus. The mucus blocks sperm and keeps it from joining with an egg.

Some people say that the morning after pill works by keeping a fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus. But there is no proof that this actually happens.

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.

Plan B is a brand of hormone pills specially packaged as emergency contraception. Plan B contains the hormone progestin.

Many people call emergency contraception or Plan B the “morning after pill.” But the name is a little confusing. You can use emergency contraception any time, up to five days, after unprotected intercourse – not just the “morning after.”

Also, you take at least two pills when you use Plan B, and many more pills if you use other types of emergency contraception – there is not just one pill. That’s why the term “emergency contraception” is more accurate than “morning after pill.”

Here we will use “emergency contraception” and “morning after pill” to mean any kind of pills that can be taken after intercourse to prevent pregnancy.

Morning after pill

The morning-after pill – a form of emergency birth control – is used to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant after she has had unprotected vaginal intercourse. Morning-after pills are generally considered safe, but many women are unaware that they exist. Here’s how the morning-after pill works.

Human conception rarely occurs immediately after intercourse. Instead, it occurs as long as several days later, after ovulation. During the time between intercourse and conception, sperm continue to travel through the fallopian tube until the egg appears. So taking emergency birth control the “morning after” isn’t too late to prevent pregnancy.

The active ingredients in morning-after pills are similar to those in birth control pills, except in higher doses. Some morning-after pills contain only one hormone, progestin (Plan B), and others contain two, progestin and estrogen. Progestin prevents the sperm from reaching the egg and keeps a fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus (implantation). Estrogen stops the ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation) that can be fertilized by sperm.

The morning-after pill is designed to be taken within 72 hours of intercourse with a second dose taken 12 hours later. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue and headache. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the morning-after pill is 80 percent effective in preventing pregnancy after a single act of unprotected sex.

Is it effective?

The morning-after pill is not 100 per cent effective, but the failure rate is quite low. It’s probably about 10 per cent, and rather better than that if you take it as early as possible.

Who is it useful for?

The morning-after pill is now widely used by women who have had unprotected sex. In particular, it has proved of value to:

  • rape victims, who should insist they are given it (unfortunately, UK doctors who examine women have sometimes been slow to prescribe it).
  • couples who have a condom break during sex.
  • women who have been lured into having sex while under the influence of drink or drugs.

Is it dangerous ?

Not at all. If anybody tells you that it has ‘lots of side-effects’ or ‘makes you really sick’, don’t believe them.

The older form of PCP used in the 1990s did often cause nausea, but today’s pill causes very little trouble.

You may feel a bit sick after taking it, but only about 1 woman in every 60 actually throws up.

If you do vomit within three hours of taking Levonelle, you should assume its effect has been lost, and get another one from a doctor or pharmacist.

Will I need a check-up afterwards?

You don’t need to go back to your doctor or family planning clinic unless you think you might be pregnant (for example, if your period is late or shorter or lighter than usual). The morning-after pill isn’t 100% effective, so it’s possible. Bear in mind that the hormones in this pill can make your next period different.

Most importantly, get yourself fixed up with some regular contraception to avoid needing the morning-after pill again.

Sources: BBC , Net Doctor, Planned Parenthood

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