Everything you need to know about the morning after pill

The prospect of an unwanted pregnancy can become a scary reality to women who experience failures with their contraception methods. However, emergency contraceptives, like taking the morning after pill, can prevent 90-95% of unwanted pregnancies from taking place. Here are some frequently asked questions about the morning after pill and its effects.

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception, otherwise known as the ‘morning after pill,’ is a single-dose hormone tablet that can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex, to prevent a pregnancy from taking place.

When can I take it?

A woman may take the morning after pill after sex, for one of the following reasons. Either because the condom broke during sex or because there was no condom or other birth control method used during intercourse. You can also take it if you regularly take birth control pills and accidently missed two days worth of tablets. You can also take the morning after pill if you are late for your Depo-Provera birth-control injection.  The sooner after unprotected sex you take a morning after pill, the better.

However, different variations of emergency contraceptive pills, give differing ‘windows of time’ in which the pill will be effective. For example, ellaOne can be taken up to 120 hours after sex, whereas Levonelle has to be taken within 72 hours. No emergency contraceptive method is advisable for long-term, regular use and they will not prevent against the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

How does the morning after pill work?

The morning after pill works by delivering a concentration of hormones that prevent an egg from being released from a woman’s ovaries. The same pill may also work by preventing sperm from fertilising any egg that may have already been released into the fallopian tube and it can also stop a fertilised egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus.

Are there any side effects?

The most common side effects that occur in some women taking the morning after pill include irregular vaginal bleeding, fatigue, headache, dizziness, breast tenderness nausea and vomiting. If you vomit after you take the morning after pill, you will need to consult your pharmacist and take another morning after pill immediately.

Can I lessen the side effects?

You can take pain relief tablets to deal with the painful side effects that sometimes occur with emergency contraceptives, like headaches and period cramps. If you suffer from nausea you may also take some anti-nausea medication one hour before you take the morning after pill.

How will the morning after pill affect my period?

You may experience some alterations to your period as a result of taking the morning after pill. This is because a high dose of hormones have entered your system (up to 50 times more than your body will naturally produce to menstruate). This can make your period heavier or lighter than normal or it can make your period come at time of the month you’re not used to. Taking the pill three or four days before ovulation is likely to make your period come early and likewise, taking the pill three or four days after ovulation is likely to make your period come late.

What if I’m pregnant?

If you think you may be pregnant, do not take the morning after pill, as it will not terminate existing pregnancies. Consult your GP as soon as possible.

How do I get the morning after pill?

You can register and pay for the morning after pill here. First you will need to fill out a medical questionnaire, order and pay for your medication and then your pill will be dispatched by a registered pharmacy. The cost of the morning after pill varies but for a single dose, you can buy them for around £12, depending on the medication that’s right for you. Alternatively, you can get them prescribed by your GP or you can buy them from your high street pharmacy over the counter.