The morning-after pill is a form of emergency contraception. It is used after any unprotected sex takes place. Someone may consider using this to prevent pregnancy if there was a problem with the primary form of birth control, such as the condom breaking, or if a person is forced into unprotected sex.
Emergency contraception is not the same as an abortion. At this point, the egg has not been fertilized by the sperm. The morning after pill is designed to reduce the risk of pregnancy, not abort a current pregnancy. It's also important to note that emergency contraception will do nothing to prevent the transmission of a sexually transmitted infection.
What Kinds of Emergency Contraception Are There?
The most common form of emergency contraception is the morning after pill. There are a few brands but the most well known is Plan B. Plan B is available over the counter and can be bought without a prescription. It is a tablet that contains 1.5mg of levonorgestrel which is the same ingredient found in birth control pills. It can be effective for up to 5 days after unprotected sex but it's recommended to be used within 12 hours of intercourse. Plan B is up to 89% effective if it's taken within less than 3 days of the unprotected sex. It loses its potency and effectiveness as more time passes. This is why it's recommended to use Plan B as soon as possible for maximum effectiveness.
Another common brand of emergency contraception is Ella. This type is only available with a prescription. Ella may not be recommended for those on hormonal birth control because it can make both less effective for the person. If this option is chosen, consult with your medical professional about how to proceed with the hormonal birth control. Ella is up to 85% effective and works very similarly to Plan B. One major difference is that the effectiveness of Ella doesn't decrease over time. It is just as effective on the 5th day as on the first.
Emergency contraception can also be delivered by a Copper intrauterine device (IUD). This can be inserted within 5 days of the unprotected intercourse and is up to 99% effective. Another benefit of this method is that it can be used as a normal method of birth control after it's in place. Depending on the type of IUD, it can last for up to 12 years. This option is more invasive than a simple pill as the IUD has to be placed inside the uterus.
How Does the Morning After Pill Work?
After intercourse, sperm can live inside the vulva for up to 5 or 6 days. The pill releases hormones that temporarily stop the ovaries from releasing the egg. If the egg is not released, the sperm do not have the chance to fertilize it before they die. If there is no fertilization, there is no pregnancy.
Sometimes it's too late to prevent the egg from being released. If this is the case, emergency contraception can thin the lining of the uterus, or endometrium, which makes it more difficult for an egg to become fertilized and implant to grow.
Emergency contraception does not cause a miscarriage or an abortion. It does nothing to stop the development of an already fertilized egg. If someone is already pregnant, emergency contraception will have no effect on the pregnancy.
Can the Morning After Pill Be Used as a Regular Birth Control?
It's not recommended that the morning after pill be used as a primary form of birth control. It is not as effective as other forms of birth control and would also be more expensive. The morning after pill can cost up for $50/pill or more depending on where you are and your medical coverage. This makes other forms of birth control not only more effective overall but also significantly cheaper.
Another reason that the morning after pill shouldn't be the first choice for regular birth control is the chance of side effects. Some people do experience side effects from using emergency contraception while others may not experience any at all. However, when they are experienced, common side effects can include cramping, spotting, sore breasts, fatigue, headache, belly pain, or dizziness. Other methods of birth control will be less detrimental when used on a regular basis.
Lastly since the morning after pill does nothing to protect people from STIs, another form of safer sex should be considered.
Know Your Options for Emergency Contraception
Avoiding an unwanted pregnancy is all about knowing what your options are and taking the necessary steps. Sometimes stuff happens that is out of your control though, that's why things like emergency contraception exist. It is the option for when other options are available or fail.
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