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Emergency contraception
If you have had unprotected sex, or if your contraceptive method is ineffective (eg, a split condom or you forgot to take your regular contraceptive pill), you can consider emergency contraception. This includes1:
  • The emergency contraceptive pill.
  • The intrauterine device (IUD)

Emergency contraceptive (EC) pill (Morning-after pill)

Also known as the "morning-after pill", the EC pill will not prevent pregnancy if you have unprotected sex after taking it, and will not work if you are already pregnant.2,3 There are two types of EC pills – one contains a synthetic hormone levonorgestrel, the other contains a compound called ulipristal acetate.1

EC pill containing levonorgestrel

This needs to be taken within 72 hours after sex, although the effectiveness is higher if you take it as soon as possible. If you can, do not wait until the third day, but take it within 12 hours after sex.2

Levonorgestrel works by2:

  • Preventing an egg from being released.
  • Preventing the sperm from reaching any egg that may have already been released.
  • Stopping the implantation of a fertilized egg.

You can take the EC containing levonorgestrel and continue to breastfeed.1 You may want to take it immediately after a breastfeed, to minimize the amount of active ingredient your baby may take in with the breast milk.2

EC pill containing ulipristal acetate

This needs to be taken as soon as possible within 120 hours after sex. Ulipristal acetate prevents progesterone from working normally, hence postponing an egg from being released.3

Taking ulipristal acetate together with the levonorgestrel EC pill will make ulipristal acetate less effective. Ulipristal acetate may also temporarily reduce the effectiveness of regular hormonal contraceptives, eg, pills and the patch. After taking ulipristal acetate, continue your regular hormonal contraception, but use a condom until your next period.3

After taking ulipristal acetate, do not breastfeed for a week.3

Precautions when taking EC pills
EC pills should not be used as regular contraception, because they are not as effective as other methods, and repeated usage can disturb your body’s menstrual cycle.4

Inform your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any other medications, because some of them can interact with the EC pill. If you vomit within 3 hours of taking the EC pill, see your doctor or pharmacist for another tablet as soon as possible.2,3

The EC pill may cause your next period to be earlier or later than usual. However, if your next period is over 7 days late, or is lighter or shorter than usual, or you have sudden, unusual pain in your lower abdomen, you might be pregnant – speak to your doctor as soon as possible.1,3

Intrauterine device (IUD)

An IUD is a device that is inserted into the womb to stop the sperm from reaching the egg. It is a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) method, but can also be used as emergency contraception if inserted up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex.1 You can read more about it here.

References

  1. NHS Choices. Emergency contraception (morning after pill, IUD). Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/contraception-guide/Pages/
    emergency-contraception.aspx. Accessed 23 September, 2015.
  2. Levonelle One Step (levonorgestrel) [Patient Information Leaflet]. Berkshire, UK: Bayer PLC; Revised 2014.
  3. EllaOne (ulipristal acetate) [Patient Information Leaflet]. Paris, France: Laboratorire HRA Pharma; Revised 2015.
  4. WHO Website. Emergency contraception. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs244/en/ . Accessed 23 September, 2015.