Emergency contraception pills help to prevent a pregnancy when taken up to five days after unprotected sex. They work by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovaries.
A very popular type of emergency contraception involves taking one or two tablets of a particular hormone. This is sometimes called ‘the morning after pill’ or ‘Plan B’.
The IUD can also be used as emergency contraception as it can prevent a fertilised egg from settling in the womb.
You may wish to consider having a supply of emergency contraceptive pill or pills at home so you have them easily available should you need them as they only work within five days of unprotected sex.
Note: Condoms are the only contraceptive methods which also protect against sexually transmitted infections. To ensure protection from both pregnancy and infection, we recommend "dual protection". This means using a contraceptive method of your choice to prevent pregnancy in addition to a male or female condom.
How well does emergency contraception work?
- Emergency contraception works well at preventing a pregnancy after unprotected sex. If one hundred women each had sex once during the second or third week of their menstrual cycle without using contraception 8 would fall pregnant and if they all used emergency contraception after sex within 5 days afterwards only one or two women would fall pregnant.
- In general the sooner an emergency contraceptive is used the more effective it is at stopping a pregnancy. Emergency contraception has to be used within five days to be most effective and has to be used after EVERY incident of unprotected sex.
- Emergency contraceptive pills do NOT work if a woman is already pregnant.
What are the advantages of emergency contraception?
- Emergency contraception is safe for almost all women.
- There are different pill options available in addition to the IUD. Oral contraceptives in the right dosage can be used as emergency contraception if a specific product is not available.
- Using emergency contraception does not affect long term fertility. If you use the emergency contraceptive pills your fertility will return the following month, after you have your period.
- Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion. Instead it prevents either fertilisation between the egg and the sperm from taking place or prevents the fertilised egg from settling in the womb.
- You can use emergency contraception at any time in your menstrual cycle.
- Emergency contraception is not harmful to your health. You can use it as many times in your life as you need to. If it is used when already pregnant, it will not cause harm to the foetus.
What are the disadvantages of emergency contraception?
- Emergency contraception will only work for sex that occurred in the previous five days – any future unprotected sex acts will require a separate contraceptive.
- Emergency contraception is not as good at preventing a pregnancy as regular contraception used before sex takes place. If you keep needing emergency contraception you should consider using a more regular contraceptive.
- Unlike condoms, emergency contraception does not protect you from sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.
- Emergency contraception may have some effect on bleeding, such as slight bleeding after taking it, earlier or later start of your menstrual cycle. Some women may also experience nausea, breast tenderness, fatigue, abdominal pain or headaches in the week after taking it.