The Morning After Pill

An unplanned pregnancy can bring panic, shock and fear of the unknown. Statistics show that about 50% of pregnancies in the United States were not planned. One unprotected sexual encounter at the time of ovulation can result in an unplanned pregnancy. There is an option known as, “the morning after pill” that can help prevent an unplanned pregnancy from occurring. This is known as “emergency contraception,” and has been around a long time.

Dr. Albert Yuzpe studied emergency contraception back in the 1970’s. It was found that if large doses of combined estrogen and progesterone are taken, then an unwanted pregnancy could be avoided. Over the years, the morning after pill has been refined and is now widely used.

Read on to learn more about The Morning After Pill.

The Morning After Pill

The morning after pill was designed to be taken the morning after you have unprotected sex. You can take them up to 3 to 5 days after unprotected sex. The longer you wait the less effective it may be. These pills come in two different types (Food and Drug Administration approved):

  • Plan B One-Step and Next ChoiceThese use the hormone Levonorgestrel which is a progestin. It is very similar to one of the hormones used in birth control pills. Plan B One-Step is sold over-the-counter without a doctor’s prescription.
  • Ella – This type uses Ulipristal acetate. This medication is a progesterone receptor modulator that actually blocks the actions of the hormones that make conditions favorable for pregnancy. This medication does require a doctor’s prescription.

The morning after pill helps prevent a pregnancy from occurring in the first place after unprotected sex. It is a choice if you think you missed taking one of your birth control pills prior to intercourse, if you do not use birth control pills, or something went wrong with another method of birth control.

Important Note:You should not use the emergency contraceptive pill as a regular method of birth control because of the cost and the danger of interrupting hormones. Do not give Next Choice to anyone younger than 17 years old. You should contact a doctor for medical advice.

How It Works to Prevent Pregnancy

One common misconception is that the morning after pill terminates pregnancy. This is untrue. The morning after pill actually prevents conception from occurring. Conception often occurs within hours to several days after intercourse. When you have intercourse, the sperm goes up through the uterus into the fallopian tubes to await ovulation. The morning after pill works to prevent ovulation from occurring and also slightly changes the conditions in the area to make it unfavorable for conception to actually occur. Therefore, taking an emergency contraception pill is not the same as taking as abortion pill. Here are the things the morning after pill does:

  • Helps to delay ovulation
  • Prevents the sperm from fertilizing the egg
  • Prevents a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterine lining (Ella only)

In order for pregnancy to occur and implant in the uterus, all the hormonal conditions in the body must be just right. The morning after pill just alters those conditions so that a pregnancy does not happen.

For the morning after pill to work, you must take it as soon as possible closest to the time you had unprotected sex. While it may work up to five days after, the earlier the better chances it will prevent pregnancy.

How Well The Morning After Pill Works

When Plan B or Next Choice are taken within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex, the effectiveness is about 95% effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy. That is 95% better than no birth control at all. If either of these are taken in the first 3 days after unprotected sex, they are about 89% effective. They tend to become less effective as time passes, but can be used up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

Ella is about 85% effective up to five days after unprotected sex and the effectiveness does not diminish over that 5 day period.

What Are The Side Effects of The Morning After Pill?

Since the morning after pill is a hormone supplement, it can cause some side-effects that are slightly uncomfortable. Most women do not experience severe side-effects or complications with this pill. Below are a few of the more common side-effects:

  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Lower Abdominal Pain
  • Breast Soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Changes In Menstruation
  • Dizziness
  • Light Spotting
  • Next Period With Heavier Bleeding

If you take the morning after pill and vomit within the first two hours, call your doctor for instructions. Also, if you miss a period, you will need to take a pregnancy test.

There are no documented risks to pregnancy if you take the morning after pill and are already pregnant. However if you already know you are pregnant and want to end the pregnancy it will not end the current pregnancy as it is not an abortion pill.

Other Helpful Information

There are a few other points to keep in mind when using the morning after pill:

  • If you are overweight: Plan B tends to be less effective in women with a Body-Mass-Index that is over 25. Ella works in women with a BMI up to 35. Doctors usually recommend women with a BMI over 35 have a ParaGuard IUD inserted to prevent unwanted pregnancy. This will also keep working for years after insertion.
  • Safety concerns: The good news is that emergency contraception has been safely used for over 30 years with no reports of serious complications. If you have a risk of blood clots or a blood clotting disorder, doctors will usually recommend that you use a progestin only morning after pill. This is because estrogen increases the risk of blood clots.
  • Where to buy: Plan B One-Step is sold at your local pharmacy. Call ahead to make sure they carry it. The cost is around $50. You just walk up to the pharmacy counter and ask for it without a prescription, no questions asked. Ella is prescription only and you can check with your insurance to see if it is covered. Most plans will cover it as birth control.
  • How to take: Listed below is the time and dosage information for the three forms of morning after pills from

All Categories