If you really don’t want to get pregnant, all is not lost. If you act fast you can use emergency contraception. One possibility is to take an ECP or ‘morning after’ pill. You can also get an IUD fitted.
Emergency contraceptive pill
Emergency contraception pills (ECPs), also known as morning-after pills or e-pills, are drugs you can take when you have had unprotected sex and think that you could be pregnant.
You need to take them as soon as possible after the unprotected intercourse, preferably within 24 hours. After that they become less effective.
ECPs are available over the counter, which means you can go straight to the pharmacy and get it without a doctor's prescription.
There are two types of emergency contraception pills however only one is currently available in India. The available pill is progestogen-only (using the hormone levonorgestrel) generally called Ipill or Unwanted 72.
- Helps prevent pregnancy in cases of failed or forgotten contraception, or rape
- Gives peace of mind
- Easy to get
- Can change timing of next period (early or late)
- No STD protection
- Needs to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex
ECPs are not for regular contraception
There is no limit as to how many times you can use the emergency-pill in a year. However, the ECP does have short-term side effects. That means it should not be used as a normal form of contraception, but only in case of emergency. Look for a form of contraception that suits you: see types of birth control.
Another form of emergency contraception is the copper IUD. However, this needs to be put in by a medical provider. It's an option if you're already considering starting to use a long-term form of contraception.
Is an ECP the same as an abortion pill?
ECPs are not abortion pills. The ECP works in various ways, but can't do anything if an egg is already fertilized. If you are already pregnant and take the ECP, it will have no negative effects on your pregnancy.
How do I get an ECP?
You can get the ECP over the counter or from your healthcare provider. Because it is most effective the faster you take it, many health care providers even suggest getting an emergency pill and keeping it at home just in case. Studies have found that keeping an ECP at home doesn't mean you are more likely to have unprotected sex.
What are the side-effects of ECPs?
- Abdominal pain, nausea, vomitting
How safe are ECPs?
ECPs have a high concentration of hormones and can cause considerable short-term side effects. That's why ECPs should be used only in case of emergency, and are not recommended as a normal method of birth control.
There seem to be no long-term side-effects known for emergency-contraception pills.
There are some cases of deep vein thrombosis (DVTs) reported with the use of the ECPs.
Who shouldn't use ECPs?
- Women with undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Women with history of DVT (deep vein thrombosis)
- Women with acute migraines
- People with a Body Mass Index (BMI) higher than 25
What can stop ECPs from working properly?
If you vomit soon after taking the pill, it may be less effective. Talk to a healthcare provider as soon as possible to find out what your options are.
In both cases, consider the Copper-T IUD as emergency contraception.
I-pill / Unwanted 72
The progestogen-only pill makes the mucus around your cervix thicker so the sperm can’t get through. It can also stop ovulation while also releasing a hormone that makes it harder for sperm to travel up towards the egg. You get either two doses of 750mg each that you have to take 12 hours apart, or one dose of 1.5mg.
If taken within 24 hours it is 95% effective. The longer you wait before taking ECPs, the less effective they are. They are most effective if taken between 12 and 24 hours after unprotected sex. If taken later, they can still be effective for 72 hours after intercourse, but then your chances of getting pregnant are higher. If taken between 49-72 hours the pill is only 58% effective.
Progestogen-only pills work less well for women who are overweight. If you have a body mass index (BMI) of more than 25 then it is suggested to use the Copper IUD as emergency contraception.
Don’t know your BMI? Use the calculator to figure it out:
Progestogen-only pills can even be used several times in one cycle if needed, though should not be used as a normal form of birth control. For more regular forms of birth control check out Birth Control Methods.
The ‘Morning After’ IUD
Another kind of emergency contraception is the ‘morning after IUD’. You have to have it fitted by a doctor. This is possible four to five days after you’ve had unprotected sex.
This is actually just the same as having an IUD fitted as a contraceptive. Once it’s in, you can just leave it in place to stop you getting pregnant in future. But you need to think whether it’s the right kind of contraception to suit you – see the section on birth control.