The Morning-After Pill: What You Need to Know

The morning-after pill is a type of emergency birth control used to help prevent pregnancy after a woman has unprotected sex or her original contraceptive did not work. It should only be used as backup contraception and never as a primary means of birth control. In the U.S., you can purchase most morning-after pill brands at your local pharmacy or drugstore without a prescription or photo ID. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the morning-after pill.

What Is the Morning-After Pill & How Does It Work?

The morning-after can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex or a failed contraception. The most common brands (such as EContra EZ, Plan B One-Step, My Way, Preventeza, Take Action, and Next Choice One Dose) contain levonorgestrel, a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone. This form of emergency birth control works similarly to standard birth control methods in that it delays or prevents ovulation. It can also prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg or stopping the attachment of a fertilized egg to the uterus.

Importantly, the morning-after pill will not protect against pregnancy if you have unprotected sex after taking it. It’s also important to note that the morning-after pill and RU486 (also known as the “abortion pill”) are NOT the same. The morning-after pill is used to prevent pregnancy at time of unprotected sex or chance that a condom didn’t work, Etc. The abortion pill RU486, is used after pregnancy is established.

Who Should Take the Morning-After Pill?

You can take the morning-after pill if:

  • You didn’t use birth control.
  • The condom broke or slipped off.
  • Your diaphragm slipped out of place.
  • You missed 2-3 active pills in your prescribed birth control pack.
  • You forgot to insert your ring.
  • You forgot to apply your patch.
  • Your partner did not pull out.
  • You were forced into unprotected sex.

How Effective Is the Morning-After Pill?

The morning-after pill does not 100% guarantee you will not get pregnant. It does, however, lower your chances of getting pregnant by approximately 75%-90%. For this high percentage to stay relevant, you must take the pill within three days after having unprotected sex; waiting for more than 72 hours will decrease the pill’s effectiveness. Just think: the sooner, the better.

What Are the Risks Associated With The Morning-After Pill?

The morning-after pill can fail – even when used correctly – and it’s not as effective as other methods of contraception. In addition, certain medications such as barbiturates or St. John’s wort may also decrease its effectiveness.

Common side effects are nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, headache, breast tenderness, bleeding between periods, heavy menstrual bleeding, lower abdominal pain, or cramps. Emergency contraceptives also do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

You should never take the morning-after pill if you are pregnant, suspect you may be pregnant, have an allergy history with any active ingredients, or have a history of abnormal vaginal bleeding. As always, we recommend speaking with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

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