Health Services

Emergency Contraception

EphNotes

3.5 million unwanted pregnancies occur in the U.S. each year. What many women don’t know is that the type of oral contraceptives prescribed for use as regular, one-a-day birth control pills are the same used for morning after protection. The most common of these are: Ovral, Lo-Ovral, Triphasil, and Nordette.

What are emergency contraceptive pills?

Emergency contracaptive pills (ECP) are high dose birth control pills. They aren’t 100% effective, but they do reduce the chance of getting pregnant by 75%.

What if I am already pregnant?

Emergency contraception will not make your pregnancy go away. It is not an abortion pill. However, if you find out after you have taken it that you are pregnant, don’t worry. Many women have taken estrogen and progesterone (the hormones in ECPs) in early pregnancy without harm to the fetus.

What are the side effects of emergency contraception?

The most common side effects are nausea and vomiting. A pill to lessen the symptoms is given with the ECPs. If you throw up within an hour of taking the first dose of ECPs, you need to repeat it. Some women will have sore breasts for a few days, and others have complained of headaches. These problems are much less common.

How do I take it?

You will be given three pills (two are emergency contraception, one is anti-nausea) to take immediately, and three pills to take 12 h later. If you will be unable to take them in 12 h, you can delay your first dose so that you can take the second dose 12 h later. For instance, if it is 10 o’clock at night, and at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning you will be in math class, you can wait until midnight to take the first pills and take the next ones at lunchtime. The second dose of pills is very important. For ECPs to be most effective, they should be taken within 72 hours of sexual exposure.

  • Do not drive or drink any alcohol for the next 24 h after the second set of pills. The medication that you take to prevent nausea may make you drowsy.
  • Do not take any extra birth control pills. They will not decrease your chance of getting pregnant and will likely increase nausea and vomiting.

When will I get my period?

Some women get their period a few days after taking emergency contraception. Others have it when they are expecting their next period or even a bit later. If you haven’t started a period within three weeks of taking the ECPs, you should take a pregnancy test.

How long will emergency contraception protect me?

Do not count on emergency contraception to protect you if you have unprotected intercourse again. You should use condoms and spermicide if you are going to have intercourse. Talk to your doctor about starting a reliable form of birth control.

Why not just use emergency contraception every time I have sex?

Emergency contraception is not as good at preventing pregnancy as other methods of birth control such as birth control pills taken regularly or birth control shots. In addition, you should be using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS.

Where can I find more information?

Your family doctor, health center, or local public health department will have more information about this. On the Internet, you can go to ec.Princeton.edu from more information.

Information provided by:
The Canadian Paediatric Society
The American Journal for Nurse Practitioners

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