Whether you’ve suffered a condom mishap or missed your pill, having a backup plan is key when it comes to preventing unplanned pregnancy. But how exactly does the morning after pill work, and can it do you damage? We sat down with Dr Lucy Hooper from Coyne Medical to find out.
First things first – how exactly does it work?
As fertilisation and thus a pregnancy doesn’t happen immediately after sex, this means there is time to prevent the sperm and egg from meeting several days after intercourse. Primariliy the morning after pill works by preventing the release of an egg (i.e., it prevents ovulation).
How effective is it?
If a woman has unprotected sex around the time of ovulation the chance of pregnancy may be up to 30%; the morning after pill can prevent around 60-80% of these pregnancies from developing. Overall, an effectiveness rate of up to 95% is often quoted but this may be much lower if sex has occurred close to ovulation.
Is it more effective the sooner you take it?
Yes and no – there are two types of morning after pill available in the UK. One, called ellaOne (ulipristal acetate) is effective up to 120 hours (five days) after sex but Levonelle One Step (levonorgestrel) is most effective if taken within the first 72 hours. It’s worth noting that both pills are unlikely to be effective after ovulation so if you are close to this point in your cycle, try to take the pill as soon as possible.
Where can you get it?
You can get the morning after pill prescription free from your NHS GP, walk-in centre or sexual health clinic. Many high street pharmacies also offer this free or for a small fee (usually around £25) following a brief consultation with the pharmacist. Many pharmacies also offer an online service, which enables you to click and collect or arrange next-day delivery. You can also be prescribed the morning after pill by private doctors or sexual health clinics.
Is it true being overweight can make the morning after pill less effective?
Recent studies have suggested that if a woman weighs more than 70kg or has a BMI over 26 kg/m2 the morning after pill may be less effective. If this is the case it may be more effective to take Ulipristal or take a double dose of Levonorgestrel. A copper IUD (intrauterine device) is also an option – this can be inserted up to five days after sex.
So there are options?
Yes – and all women should be aware that a copper IUD is the most effective method when it comes to emergency contraception. It also has the advantage of offering ongoing long-term contraception if this is needed. However, it may be difficult to arrange an appointment to have an IUD fitted straightaway; in this case a morning after pill should still be considered whilst awaiting an appointment. The Family Planning Association website can help you find a local family planning clinic.
Are there any side effects with the morning after pill?
The most common side effects are headache and nausea. If vomiting occurs within three hours of taking a morning after pill a second dose should be taken. It is also advised to avoid alcohol for a couple of days after taking the pill as this can exacerbate nausea.
Does it have any repercussions on your menstrual cycle?
Your next period may be a little early or late and when it does come, cramps may be more prevalent. If your next period doesn’t come within seven days of its expected date, take a pregnancy test. A test should also be taken if your period does arrive but is much lighter than usual.
Is it okay to take the morning after pill alongside the Pill?
You can use the morning after pill if you have missed some of your usual daily pill but be sure to check with your pharmacist or GP. You may need to use extra contraception such as condoms for up to 16 days depending on which pill you’re on.
Can it have any long-term effects on fertility?
No – both types of the morning after pill do not have any effect on a woman’s long-term fertility.
Finally – is it possible to stock-up on the morning after pill?
If you know you will be having sex it is best to plan a reliable form of contraception such as an oral contraceptive pill but if you are going travelling then it can be wise to be prepared for unplanned moments.