Emergency contraception (ECP) is sometimes called "morning after pill." It should not be used as a substitute for regular birth control, but can be used after unprotected sex. Some of the reasons women may use the ECP are:
• You had unprotected sex
• You used a condom but it broke
• You missed two or more birth control pills in a row
• You received a birth control shot late or should have received it but have not yet
• You were forced to have sex
Emergency contraception will not abort a pregnancy and will not work if you are already pregnant. ECP works by stopping an egg from leaving the ovary, stopping the sperm from meeting with the egg or stopping a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.
ECP contain the same hormones that are in many birth control pills. They may contain both progestin and estrogen or just progestin. These pills can work for up to five days after having unprotected sex but should be taken as soon as possible after having sex.
Progestin Only ECPs
This type of ECP comes in two doses. The first dose should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. The second dose is taken 12 hours later. These are available in pharmacies for women older than 18 years old. For those under the age of 18, a prescription is needed for ECPs.
Progestin and Estrogen ECPs
This type of ECP is a higher than normal dose of birth control pills. There are specific amounts of birth control pills that should be taken as ECPs and not all brands can be used in this way. The website "The Emergency Contraception Website" contains information on many different brands of birth control pills that can be used as a "morning after" pill as well as the correct dosage to use.
Both the progestin and the progestin plus estrogen ECPs can cause nausea. If you throw up after taking ECPs, contact your doctor or pharmacist. Depending on how soon you throw up, you may need to take another dose. Your doctor or pharmacist should be able to provide you with additional medication to help prevent further nausea.
Effectiveness and Safety of ECPs
The emergency contraception does not guarantee you will not get pregnant. According to the Women's Health Website by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this type of birth control is between 75% and 89% effective in preventing a pregnancy. The sooner you take the ECP, the more effective it will be.
If you should the become pregnant, there does not seem to be any additional risks of birth control because of taking ECPs. Studies have been completed with women who did not know they were pregnant but continued to take birth control pills and chances of having a child with birth defects did not increase.
(2006) Emergency Contraception, Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.