Morning After Pill
The emergency contraceptive pill, otherwise known as the 'morning after pill', is a form of contraception for use after unprotected sex. In recent times, there has been a bit of backlash against the term 'morning after pill' because some people, particularly in medical circles, think the name implies that the pill can be used casually, repeatedly even, by women who don't make an effort to protect themselves before sex takes place. Doctors and pharmacists are aware, however, that there are many reasons why a woman might need emergency contraception - so you should never fear that you'll be judged if you need to take the emergency contraceptive pill.
Reasons For Taking The Pill
The emergency pill can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Unprotected sex does not always involve the cliché of large quantities of alcohol and waking up in a strange place the next morning, however. You may have had unprotected sex if you were using a condom which broke or malfunctioned in some way during intercourse; if you've extended your regular break from your contraceptive pill to more than seven days; or, if in the middle of your pill pack, you forgot to take a pill for more than 24 hours. If you take the combined contraceptive pill every day, and you've been ill with vomiting or diarrhoea, the pills may not have absorbed properly into your bloodstream - therefore you may have unwittingly had 'unprotected' sex. Certain other medications, such as antibiotics, may also reduce the effectiveness of the everyday contraceptive pill. In all these situations, you may need to take the emergency contraceptive pill. In fact, if you have any doubts at all about whether or not you've had unprotected sex, you should speak to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist about taking the morning after pill.
Where To Go
In Britain, GPs and some pharmacists are able to prescribe the emergency pill free-of-charge to under 18s and even, in some cases, to girls under the age of 16. Anyone over the age of 16 is allowed to buy emergency contraception over-the-counter (without a prescription from the doctor) in a pharmacy. At the time of writing, emergency contraception cost around £26. If you are unsure as to whether you really need it, or have any other questions, go and see your doctor or the nurse at your local clinic, but do it quickly - emergency contraception works only within a limited time frame...
The emergency contraceptive pill is 95 % effective in preventing pregnancy if it is taken within 24hours (one day) of having unprotected sex. It can be given to you up to 72 hours (three days) after sex, but the longer you leave it the less effective the pill will be.
How It Works
There are different types of emergency contraceptive pills which work in different ways. In Britain, a single dose emergency pill is most commonly prescribed, there are, however, two-dose pills which are taken 12 hours apart. The pill contains hormones. These hormones prevent pregnancy either by delaying or stopping ovulation; by stopping the fertilisation of an egg which has been released; or by preventing a fertilised egg implanting in the uterus and growing into a baby.
The emergency contraceptive pill may not be suitable for everyone, so if you have doubts consult your doctor. Remember that the pill is not the only method of emergency contraception, there is also the emergency IUD. Some women report side effects from taking the emergency pill, these include nausea, dizziness, headaches, breast tenderness and actual vomiting. If you vomit within two hours of taking the pill, see your doctor again as soon as possible. The pill may not have had a chance to be absorbed into your body and may therefore not be effective. You may find that your next period is a little late or that you experience bleeding or spotting in the middle of your cycle when you are not expecting it.
After Taking The Pill
If you were taking the everyday contraceptive pill before you took the emergency pill, you should resume taking your ordinary pills as normal within 12 hours of taking the emergency pill. Use condoms for the next seven days to guarantee protection. If when you take your next seven-day break you don't have a bleed, see your doctor. You may experience some break-through bleeding or spotting.
If you weren't using any form of hormonal contraception before taking the emergency pill, and you're next period is more than seven days late, see your doctor. You should also consult your doctor if your next period is shorter or lighter than you expected or if you have any sudden or unusual pains in your stomach or abdomen. If your period hasn't started within three weeks of taking the emergency pill, you should do a pregnancy test.
Check out what other women are saying about the morning after pill in our birth control forum.