The main points
- Emergency contraception is also known as the 'morning after pill'
- Is most effective when taken with 24 hours (1 day) of unprotected sex, but can be taken up to 96 hours (4 days)
- Available over the counter at the pharmacy without a prescription.
If you had sex without contraception, or had problems with your regular method (missed pills,broken condom), emergency contraception, also know as the morning after pill, can help prevent unplanned pregnancy.
There are two types of emergency contraception that you can use:
- the emergency contraception pill (ECP)
- the copper IUD (Cu-IUD)
What is the emergency contraception pill (ECP)?
The ECP is sometimes called the ‘morning-after pill’. It contains a high dose of progestogen hormone. The ECP does NOT have to be taken in the morning. It prevents about 85 per cent of expected pregnancies if taken within three days of having sex. The ECP is not an abortion pill. If you are already pregnant, ECP will not work.
Emergency contraception pills are available from the chemist with no prescription.
How do I take ECP?
ECP should be taken as soon as possible after having unprotected sex, ideally within 24 hours (one day), but it still works well if taken within 96 hours (four days). You can take ECP within 96 to 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex, but it won’t be very effective. The emergency pill is available from the chemist with no prescription.
The ECP is given either as a single tablet (1.5mg) OR as two tablets (750mcg).
Some medicines can reduce the effectiveness of ECP and you may need a larger dose. Discuss any medications you are taking with the pharmacist or doctor before taking ECP.
If you vomit less than two hours after you take the ECP, you should take another dose. If vomiting occurs MORE than two hours after taking it, there is no need to take another dose.
What are the possible side effects?
Side effects are uncommon but some women feel sick in the stomach or have tender breasts or headaches. Some women may have an irregular period after taking ECP.
You should talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist after taking ECP if:
you think you might be pregnant
your next period is more than seven days late
your period is shorter or lighter than usual
you have any sudden or unusual pain in your lower abdomen (this could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy, where a fertilised egg sticks outside the womb – this is rare but serious and needs immediate medical attention).
Where can I get ECP?
You can get the emergency pill from your local chemist or pharmacy. The pharmacist may ask you questions about your health to make sure the emergency pill is safe for you to take.
If you are under 16 years old, the pharmacist may ask you some questions to make sure you understand the effects of taking the emergency pill.
What is the copper intrauterine device (Cu-IUD)?
The Cu-IUD is a small contraceptive device placed in your uterus. When it is inserted within five days of unprotected sex it is a very effective method of emergency contraception. This can only be done by specially trained doctors and nurses.
A copper IUD can also be used as ongoing contraception.
The ECP does not reduce the risk of pregnancy if you have sex again. It is safe to take the ECP more than once in a single menstrual cycle. However, using a reliable form of contraception is the best protection against unintended pregnancy. A health professional can discuss contraceptive options with you.