The emergency contraception (EC) pill (sometimes called the ‘morning after pill’) can be taken after unprotected sex to prevent 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 emergency contraceptive pill is by far the most popular method of emergency contraception, and can be bought without prescription from most pharmacies.
*most effective within 24 hours. Effectiveness decreases with time since unprotected sex
**can make earlier or later
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.
There are two different types of emergency contraceptive pill:
If you’re sick (vomit) within two hours of taking Levonorgestrel (LNG), or three hours of 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.
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.
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.
Ulipristal acetate (UPA) is not suitable for women who:
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.
Yes – Levonorgestrel (LNG) becomes less effective the longer you wait to take it. A trial undertaken by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that levonorgestrel (the drug in LNG) prevented:
If you need emergency contraception for recent unprotected sex, you will be asked:
Your period may come on time or a few days early or late. If your period is over a week late, take a pregnancy test.
The sooner you take Levonorgestrel (LNG) or Ulipristal acetate (UPA), the more effective it will be.
If your next period is more than seven days late, or is unusually light or short, contact your GP as soon as possible to check for pregnancy.
If you are unsure about either of these things, and you think you may have had unprotected sex in the last 72 hours, you should take emergency contraception.
Ask your GP or nurse if you want to get the emergency contraceptive pill in advance if:
Yes, you can take emergency contraceptive pills while breastfeeding. You can also have the IUD fitted while breastfeeding as long as you are more than 28 days post-delivery.
The emergency contraceptive pill will not prevent future pregnancies if you have unprotected sex again, so you should make sure you are taking your contraception correctly.
For Levonorgestrel (LNG): If you are using emergency contraception because you forgot your regular pill or did not use the patch or vaginal ring correctly, you should take your regular pill again, insert a new ring or apply a new patch. Use additional contraception, such as condoms:
For Ulipristal acetate (UPA): If you forgot your regular pills, did not use the patch or vaginal ring correctly, or want to start using hormonal contraception, you should wait for 5 days after taking UPA. This is because UPA can reduce the effect of hormonal contraception.
Your period is likely to come on time or a few days early or late. Sometimes it can be a week late and sometimes even later. You may have some irregular bleeding after you take the pill, and before your next period. This can range from spotting to quite heavy bleeding. If your period is over a week late, take a pregnancy test.
Ulipristal acetate (UPA) may not be suitable for people who are using proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole (antacids that regulate their stomach acid levels).