When it comes to sex, slip-ups can happen. The good news is they don’t have to result in unintended pregnancy. Whether you got caught up in the moment or the condom broke, emergency contraception like the morning-after pill can help prevent a mistake from turning into a more serious issue.
What is the ‘morning-after pill’?
The morning-after pill is a form of emergency contraception that prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex. It’s safe and effective, though it shouldn’t be considered a go-to form of contraception (hence the term ‘emergency’).
Another form of emergency contraception is the intrauterine device (IUD), also known as the loop. The morning-after pill is short-acting, while the loop, once inserted, is active for up to 10 years.
How does the morning-after pill work?
Pregnancy doesn’t happen right after sex; in fact, it can take up to six days for the egg and sperm to meet. That’s why it’s possible to prevent pregnancy even after you’ve had unprotected sex. Emergency contraception delays the release of an egg from a woman’s ovary, and therefore pregnancy cannot happen because there is no egg for the sperm to fertilise.
Don’t be confused, though: the morning-after pill is not the abortion pill. It simply prevents pregnancy from occurring at all, while the abortion pill terminates it once it’s happened.
When the loop is used as emergency contraception, it must be inserted by a healthcare professional within 120 hours (five days) of having unprotected sex. It is 99.9% effective, even on the fifth day, and it can stay in your body for up to 10 years as a form of long-term contraception. This makes it the most effective type of birth control available today.
How much time do I have to take emergency contraceptives after having unprotected sex?
Both kinds of emergency contraception can be used up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex, though it is likely to be more effective the sooner you use it.
Is emergency contraception safe?
Yes. Millions of women use it, and have done so for more than 30 years. There are no reports of serious side effects of using the various types of emergency birth control available.
What side effects can I expect?
When you use emergency contraception, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Changes in your period. It may be earlier or later, or heavier or lighter than usual.
- Breast tenderness, dizziness or headaches.
- Nausea or vomiting. Note that if you vomit within two hours of taking the pill, it won’t be effective and you’ll need to take another one.
How often can I use emergency contraception?
While safe to use, it’s crucial to remember that emergency contraception does not protect against HIV/Aids and STIs, and it is not as effective as regular contraception. It is also more expensive. This means you shouldn’t take it as your main form of birth control. Frequent use may also cause your periods to become irregular and unpredictable.
Where can I go for emergency contraception?
Marie Stopes centres across South Africa will provide discreet support when you need it. So, whether you require the morning-after pill or decide to have the loop inserted, you can trust us to provide friendly, caring service that is always confidential. We can also advise you on the right type of birth control to suit your lifestyle and help avoid future slip-ups.
Find your closest Marie Stopes centre now and visit as soon as possible so we can help you prevent an unplanned pregnancy.