Even the most prepared amongst us have probably had it happen: you get caught up in the moment, in a night of passion, and the thought of birth control goes out the window. Some of us may even have an adorable chubby-cheeked souvenir of that fateful night!
Maybe you forgot to take your pills, or maybe the condom broke. Maybe you didn’t use anything at all. Whatever the case, the thought of an unplanned pregnancy can put you into a state of panic. What can be done the morning after?
Emergency contraception can be used to prevent pregnancy up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected intercourse takes place. Here we will discuss the emergency contraception options available and how to obtain each one.
The best known form of emergency contraception is the Morning After Pill. There are two variations on the UK market today: Levonelle and ellaOne.
Levonelle contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic progestogen that works by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg and preventing fertilization by sperm if the egg has already been released. It must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex and is more effective the sooner it is taken within those 72 hours. Studies show that pregnancy rates are just 2 in every 100 women who take Levonelle within the prescribed time frame.
EllaOne contains ulipristal acetate, which alters the activity of progestogen, the natural hormone necessary for ovulation; the pill actually postpones ovulation. EllaOne must be taken within 120 hours of unprotected sex and is also most effective when taken as soon as possible. Pregnancy rates for women who have taken ellaOne within the prescribed time frame are 1.5 for every 100.
Common side effects of both Levonelle and ellaOne are nausea, headache, painful periods, abdominal pain, dizziness and fatigue. They can also affect your period schedule, causing the next period to come early or late. If your period is over five days late, a pregnancy test should be taken. Neither tablet can be considered 100% effective, and certain factors can reduce their reliability. Levonelle, for example, can be less effective in women with Body Mass Indicator (BMI) of over 30. These factors should be discussed with your prescribing doctor in advance.
You will also want to continue to take your normal birth control pill after taking a morning after pill, however you will require a backup birth control method throughout the rest of your cycle. Some more interesting information on the morning after pill and necessary precautions is available here.
The IUD (intrauterine device) is another possible form of emergency contraception. A small, T-shaped plastic or copper device, it can be inserted within five days of unprotected sex (by a medical health professional) to prevent pregnancy.
The IUD has the added bonus of being able to be left in to prevent future pregnancy. The NHS states that it is more effective than the morning after pill. Because it does not contain medication or any active ingredients the IUD will not interact with any other medications you may be taking and normally has few adverse effects.
It physically prevents the egg from implantation in the womb and being fertilised by sperm, resulting in a high success rate when used as emergency contraception or as a long term form of birth control.
Morning after pills can be obtained free from GP surgeries that offer contraception, contraception and sexual health clinics and some GUM (genitourinary) and young persons’ clinics. They can also be purchased from reliable online pharmacies to keep in reserve, however it is important to remember that they are only to be utilised for occasional emergencies. IUDs can be inserted free of charge in the above mentioned locations as well.
There is really no ‘safe’ time of the month when you can avoid pregnancy, so if your contraception has failed or you have knowingly had unprotected intercourse you are at risk. Sperm can survive in the body for at least several days, but you do have options! Arm yourself with this knowledge of available emergency contraception options, whether you find yourself needing it now or wish to prepare for any future situations.