If your primary mode of birth control fails, you still have other options to prevent pregnancy. Learn more about emergency contraception.
If you have unprotected sex or if your birth control fails, there is still a way to prevent an unintended pregnancy. This is called emergency contraception.
What is emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception is a type of birth control that is used after unprotected sex to stop a pregnancy from happening. Traditional birth control methods are used before or during sex to prevent pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted disease (STDs).
- Does not protect you from STDs
- Cannot be used to end an existing pregnancy
What types of emergency contraception are there?
There are two methods of emergency birth control available:
Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) - the "morning-after pill" - is an oral medicine. "Plan B" (levonorgestrel) and "ella" (ulipristal acetate) are the drugs that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this use.
- Copper Intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped device that is placed into your uterus by your doctor. It can be taken out after your next period. Or it can stay in place and used as a birth control method for up to 10 years.
When should I take it?
You don't need to wait until the morning after sex to use emergency contraception. You can take it right after sex. But it has to be taken within five days after sex to work.
How does emergency contraception work?
Like regular birth control pills, emergency contraception contains hormones that prevent pregnancy. In fact, ECPs contain the same hormones as traditional birth control pills, but in a higher dose. Pills are made up of estrogen and progestin or progestin-only. They work by:
- Preventing ovulation. Hormones stop the egg from leaving the ovary so it cannot be fertilized by the sperm.
- Blocking fertilization. Hormones cause the cervical mucus to thicken. This blocks the sperm from reaching the egg.
- Keeping the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall. A pregnancy will not occur if the egg doesn't implant. Some studies, though, show that ECPs do not work this way.
The IUD works like a spermicide. It stops semen from reaching the egg. It also keeps the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.
Are ECPs the same as the abortion pill?
No. ECPs prevent a pregnancy from starting. If the fertilized egg has already implanted to the uterus, ECPs will not work. Emergency contraception cannot be used to end a pregnancy.
Can the emergency contraception be my primary form of birth control?
It depends on the method:
- The IUD can be used as primary birth control to prevent pregnancy. But it does not protect against STDs.
- ECPs should only be used as a backup method of birth control because they are not as effective as traditional birth control methods.
How effective is it?
- ECPs are not as effective as regular birth control pills. Studies show that ECPs prevent 75 percent of pregnancies. Regular birth control pills, when taken correctly, are 99 percent effective.
- IUDs prevent pregnancies more than 99 percent of the time.
What are the side effects?
Some women have side effects from ECPs. Women who take progestin-only ECPs may have fewer side effects. Side effects go away after a few days, and include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain and cramps
- Breast tenderness
Call your doctor if you vomit after taking an ECP.
Side effects of IUDs are rare, but can happen, and include:
- Damage to the uterus
- Heavy bleeding during your period
Is emergency contraception for me?
Only you and your doctor can decide if emergency contraception is a good choice for you. Some women may not be able to use emergency contraception, such as:
- Women who are breast-feeding or cannot take estrogen. They should only take progestin-only ECPs.
- Women who have an STD. They are not good candidates for an IUD. IUDs can lead to infection and possibly infertility if you have an STD.
Where can I find emergency contraception?
- ECPs are sold over-the-counter (OTC) at pharmacies for women 18 and older. Women 17 and younger can get ECPs by prescription only. You can ask your doctor for buy vidalista at your regular exam to have on hand just in case an emergency occurs.
- IUDs are only available at your doctor's office. Your doctor must insert the device.