Using the morning-after pill

Emergency Contraception - pill

The emergency contraceptive pill (also known as the morning-after pill) is used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if a form of birth control has failed. A recent survey in the UK found that the morning-after pill was used by 1 in 5 women (aged 18-35) in a year [1]. The morning-after pill is often seen as a form of abortion which is wrong. In fact, the morning-after pill is a form of birth control and prevents ovulation. If used after an egg has been fertilised, the morning-after pill will not stop the pregnancy. The morning-after pill is 95% effective if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex (or if you know your birth control has failed) and if you haven’t already ovulated [2]. In 2022/23, the most amount of searches of ‘emergency contraceptive pill’ were in August 2022 and the first week of January 2023 [3]. So if you’re going on holiday or preparing for Christmas, make sure you have your birth control ready.


How emergency pills work: 

Emergency contraceptive pills work by disrupting your normal levels of the natural hormone progesterone. Normal levels of progesterone help to prepare the uterine lining for the implantation of the egg and also tell your ovaries if you are pregnant. If the ovaries think you’re pregnant, they won’t release another egg. 

After taking the emergency contraceptive pill, the disruption of progesterone working normally stops or delays an egg being released. However, if the egg has already been released, the emergency contraceptive pill won’t stop the pregnancy. If you have a fertility tracker, you’ll be able to see if you’ve ovulated. However, we still suggest you take a pregnancy test when your period is due. 

Emergency contraceptive pill and the effects: 

The sexual health charity FPA reported that only 10% of women experience side effects from taking the morning-after pill [4]. Side effects include nausea or vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, headache, breast tenderness and lower abdominal pain [5]. These symptoms should only last a few days. Furthermore, the emergency contraceptive pill can delay periods. Your next period may also be heavier and more painful. 


When to take emergency contraceptive pills: 

You should take your emergency contraceptive pill as soon as possible after having unprotected sex. The longer you wait, the higher the chance you’ll ovulate. The amount of time you have to take the emergency contraception pill depends on which type you use. 

Levonelle - 72 hours, 3 days 

ellaOne - 120 hours, 5 days 


Is the emergency contraceptive pill safe? 

If you’re using an emergency contraception pill that has been prescribed to you by a health professional, then it’ll be classed as safe. There have been no reports of series complications like long-term side effects or difficulties getting pregnant later [6]. If you find out you have ovulated and are pregnant, the emergency contraception pill will not affect the embryo. 


Which emergency contraceptive pill is the best? 

 Although we haven’t looked at IUDs (intrauterine device/ the coil) in this article, this is another form of emergency contraception. If you have an IUD inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex, then they’ll be less than 1% chance of you getting pregnant. It’s the most effective form of emergency contraceptive [7]. 

Between the two types of emergency contraceptive pills, ellaOne is the most effective. Only 1-2% of women become pregnant after using ellaOne whilst 0.6%-2.6% of women became pregnant after using Levonelle [8]


Can the emergency contraceptive cause bleeding? 

Irregular bleeding (spotting) can be a side-effect of using the morning-after pill. Your period may also come earlier or later and maybe heavier or lighter than usual. However, if you become concerned, contact your doctor. 


Where to buy emergency contraceptive pills? 

You can be prescribed emergency contraceptive pills by your doctor, sexual health clinics or at your local pharmacy. There are also online pharmacies that you can use if you’re uncomfortable going in person. If you are under 16, you will not have to pay for the emergency contraceptive pill. 


Emergency contraception pill and breastfeeding: 

Levonelle has been classed as safe to use while breastfeeding. However, ellaOne hasn’t been decided as safe to use while breastfeeding yet. The manufacturer instructs that you wait a week to begin breastfeeding again after using ellaOne. The IUD is safe to use if you’re breastfeeding [9]. 






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