Accidents happen; it could be that you forgot to take your daily contraceptive, or that the condom has torn, or perhaps you just got caught up in the moment. Whatever the reason, you can still prevent yourself from becoming pregnant with the help of a morning after pill, also known as the emergency contraceptive pill.
The two most popular morning after pills are Levonelle and ellaOne. Levonelle is effective for up to three days after unprotected sex, while ellaOne can prevent pregnancy for up to five days. However, both of these emergency contraceptives will work better the sooner you take them.
What is the morning after pill?
A morning after pill can be taken up to three or five days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy, but it should not be taken if you believe you are already pregnant. It usually contains a high dose of artificial progestogen which works by stopping your ovaries from releasing an egg and changes the lining of your womb so a fertilised egg cannot embed itself there.
The morning after pill is only available online to women aged 18 or over to purchase as a precautionary measure in case it is needed. It is best to speak to your doctor or pharmacist if your situation is urgent.
How effective is this treatment in preventing conception?
The morning after pill is most effective the sooner you take it after you have had unprotected sex. Efficacy rates also differ depending on the version of emergency contraception you are taking. Levonelle, the original morning after pill, can prevent up to 95% of pregnancies if it is taken within 24 hours after having unprotected sex. It becomes progressively less effective the later you take it, dropping to 85% between 25 to 48 hours after and 58% between 49 to 72 hours.
ellaOne was proven to stop 98% of women from falling pregnant if they took it within the prescribed five day period. This means that only two out of every 100 women who took it fell pregnant after taking it.
Is the morning after pill dangerous?
Emergency contraception pills rarely cause any side effects. A small minority of women may feel a little sick after taking the morning after pill, but only one in 60 women actually physically vomit after taking it. Some women may also notice their period starts earlier or later than usual after taking the morning after pill.
If you vomit within three hours of taking the morning after pill, you should immediately seek advice from your doctor, as the tablet may not have had enough time to take effect.
The morning after pill can also cause irregular bleeding, diarrhoea, vomiting, breast tenderness, headaches, lower abdominal pain or dizziness, but this is very rare.
What emergency contraceptive treatment options are available?
There are two different versions of emergency contraceptive pill available in the UK, namely Levonelle and ellaOne.
Levonelle is an oral emergency contraceptive pill that should be taken within 12 hours of having unprotected sex for it to be at its most effective. However, Levonelle can still be taken up to three days after unprotected sex. You can take Levonelle at any time during your menstrual cycle, but if your period is late or if you suspect you are already pregnant, it is best not to use Levonelle.
After taking Levonelle, you should use a condom until your next period starts, even if you are using a daily contraceptive pill.
ellaOne is a new oral contraceptive pill that can be effective for up to five days after you have unprotected sex or your contraception has failed. Tests have shown that for every 100 women that take ellaOne during this 120 hour period, only two will become pregnant. ellaOne works by changing the natural hormone progestogen. This stops your ovaries from releasing an egg and alters the environment of your womb. Similar to Levonelle, ellaOne should not be taken if you think that you may already be pregnant or if you have already taken it during your menstrual cycle.
You should use condoms after taking ellaOne until your next period arrives, even if you are taking the ongoing contraceptive pill.