Emergency contraception (morning after pill)

  • There are no serious side effects of using the emergency contraception pill.
  • Reduces risk of pregnancy if you have not used contraception, or if your contraception has failed.
  • Accessible every day of the week from pharmacies.

The emergency contraception (EC) pill (previously called the ‘morning after pill’) can be taken after unprotected sex to prevent an unintended pregnancy.

There are two types of hormonal emergency contraception; one which has to be taken within three days of unprotected sex, and the other within five days. The non-hormonal coil (IUD) is the most effective emergency contraception if inserted up to five days after unprotected sex. The IUD is just as effective on day 5 as it is on day 1.

The emergency contraceptive pill is the most popular method of emergency contraception, and can be bought without prescription from most pharmacies. To see a list of pharmacies that offer EC for free click here. Please ensure you contact the pharmacy first to ensure the correct pharmacy is on duty who is able to offer it free of charge.

Can be taken
Up to 5 days
Period cycle**
Side effects

*most effective within 24 hours. Effectiveness decreases with time since unprotected sex

**can make earlier or later

How to use it

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For hormonal emergency contraception:

Take one pill, within the specified time period. The emergency contraceptive pill is much more likely to work if you take it within 24 hours of having sex.

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There are two different types of emergency contraceptive pill:

  • Levonorgestrel (LNG), which has to be taken within 72 hours (three days) of sex
  • Ulipristal acetate (UPA), which has to be taken with 120 hours (five days) of sex.

If you vomit within two hours of taking Levonorgestrel (LNG), or three hours after taking Ulipristal acetate (UPA), seek medical advice as you will need to take another dose or have a non-hormonal coil (IUD) fitted.

You will need to tell the doctor, nurse or pharmacist about the unprotected sex you have had so to they can advise on the most suitable method of emergency contraception.

Why it works

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Both types of pill contain ingredients which prevent or delay ovulation (the egg being released from your ovaries). LNG contains levonorgestrel and UPA contains ulipristal acetate.

Things to consider

Emergency contraceptive pills or emergency IUDs do not protect against STIs. You should use condoms to protect yourself from STIs.

STIs can pass from one person to another during sex, especially if you don’t use a condom. It is a good idea to get tested, especially if you have recently changed partners. Most infections can be cured.

Using the emergency contraceptive pill repeatedly can disrupt your natural menstrual cycle.

What if?

You’re already using another form of contraception:

  • Ulipristal acetate (UPA) may prevent other types of hormonal contraception from working for a week after use. You can take it more than once in a menstrual cycle
  • Levonorgestrel (LNG) does not interfere with your regular method of contraception and you can take it more than once in a menstrual cycle
  • Levonorgestrel (LNG) and Ulipristal acetate (UPA) do not protect you against pregnancy during the rest of your menstrual cycle and are not intended to be a regular form of contraception
  • The IUD will not interfere with your regular method of contraception and will continue to give you protection against pregnancy for the rest of the cycle - you can choose to keep it for ongoing contraception.

Emergency contraceptive pills can become less effective at preventing pregnancy if:

  • You are taking other medicines - ask your clinician, GP or pharmacist, and read the information that comes with your medicine
  • You wait longer than 24 hours to take it (Levonorgestrel (LNG) only).


Most women can take the emergency contraceptive pill. This includes women who cannot usually use hormonal contraception, such as the combined pill and contraceptive patch.

Ulipristal acetate (UPA) is not suitable for women who:

  • are allergic to any of the components of the drug
  • have severe asthma that is not properly controlled by steroids
  • have hereditary problems with lactose metabolism.

Side effects & risks


Next period earlier or later than usual.


Can make you feel sick, dizzy or tired, or give you a headache, tender breasts or abdominal pain.

Some women using Ulipristal acetate (UPA) experience painful periods, mood swings, and muscle or back pain.

For more information on emergency contraception click here