Accidents happen, but that doesn’t mean they have to affect the rest of your life. Whether the condom broke or you forgot to take your birth control, the morning after pill can help prevent unplanned pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
Here are six important things you need to know about this type of emergency contraception.
1. Time is (sort of) on your side
The great thing about the morning after pill (MAP) is that you can take it up to 72 hours after unprotected sex and it will still prevent pregnancy. You can get it at your local pharmacy or at a clinic, and they’ll give you clear instructions for taking it. The morning after pill is a progestin-only pill that works by preventing ovulation – and if you don’t ovulate, you can’t fall pregnant.
2. It’s called ‘emergency contraception’ for a reason
The morning after pill shouldn’t be used as your regular form of contraception for a few reasons.
Firstly, it’s not as effective at preventing pregnancy as proper birth control: the MAP is successful in around 85% to 89% of cases, whereas birth control is between 97% and 99% effective. Secondly, because the MAP has high levels of hormones in it, it can result in more severe side effects than regular contraception, like nausea, headaches and irregular bleeding. Lastly, it’s more expensive than normal contraception, and you’d have to keep visiting your pharmacy or clinic regularly to get it.
3. There’s a better option than the morning after pill
Did you know that the IUD (intrauterine device or ‘loop’) is actually also effective as a form of emergency contraception, and that once it’s inserted, it can last up to 10 years? That means it’ll prevent unplanned pregnancy after a slip up, and will continue to do so as long as you keep it in.
4. No emergency contraception can prevent STIs
Although the MAP and IUD can help prevent unplanned pregnancy, they do not reduce your risk of contracting STIs or HIV after unprotected sex. If you’ve had unprotected sex, whether intentionally or not, it’s critical that you visit a clinic ASAP. They’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action moving forward.
5. Your period may be affected (and there’s a small chance you may still be pregnant)
Because of the high levels of hormones in the MAP, you may find that your next period is earlier, later or heavier than usual, or that your menstrual symptoms are more severe. If your period is very delayed, it’s worth taking a pregnancy test. As we’ve mentioned, the morning after pill is usually but not always effective.
6. You must visit your doctor or clinic right away
It’s important that you get a check-up if you’ve had unprotected sex. You may have been exposed to STIs, and you may be needing a more effective form of birth control. Your doctor or clinic will be able to advise you on the most appropriate methods available to you. You should also always keep a stash of condoms with you because you never know when you may need them! Prevention is always better than cure.
Quick, painless HIV and STI testing in your area
It’s always a good idea to have regular HIV and STI screening. If you’re due for your next test, pop into your nearest Marie Stopes centre for a quick and confidential test. Find your closest centre and then make an appointment online.