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What is emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception is a form of birth control. It can be used to prevent pregnancy if used within 5 days of having unprotected sex. If you are pregnant, emergency contraception pills will not stop or harm your pregnancy.
Emergency contraception is used in certain situations, including:
- You had unprotected sex.
- You had unprotected sex and forgot to take your birth control pills.
- Your partner’s condom broke or slipped off during sex
- Your diaphragm slipped out of place during sex
- You were forced to have unprotected sex
There are 2 types of emergency contraception available. One option is medicine, which is often known as “the morning-after pill.” In Canada, pills that contain levonorgestrel (Plan B®) do not require a prescription from your healthcare provider. You can purchase them over the counter at a pharmacy. Pills that contain ulipristal acetate (ella®) do require a prescription.
The second option is to use an intrauterine device (IUD) that contains copper. You must go to a healthcare provider to have an IUD inserted.
Emergency contraceptive pills can be very effective if they are used in time. The pills are most effective when taken within 24 hours of having sex. They are still effective when taken up to five days after having sex. Ulipristal acetate pills reduce your risk of pregnancy more than levonorgestrel pills. The pills cannot prevent pregnancy if you have unprotected sex after taking them.
The copper IUD, is a small, T-shaped device that is placed inside your uterus. Unlike pills, IUDs don’t stop your ovaries from releasing an egg. They can prevent an egg from being fertilized or implanted. An IUD is very effective for emergency contraception. It can reduce your risk of pregnancy by more than 99%. This is true if your healthcare provider inserts it within 7 days of sex. This IUD can be left in your body for up to 10 years to prevent pregnancy. Some women use IUDs as their regular form of birth control. Common side effects of a copper IUD are heavier, longer periods and spotting or cramping between periods. Symptoms usually improve in the first 3 to 6 months.
Path to improved health
Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy by:
- Stopping ovulation (release of an egg from the ovaries)
- Stopping an egg from being fertilized by sperm
- Stopping a fertilized egg from attaching itself to the wall of the uterus
Emergency contraception cannot prevent or end pregnancy if a fertilized egg already is implanted. Because of this, emergency contraception is not a means of abortion.
Most medicine brands require a single dose of 1 pill. Some brands have 2 doses (1 pill followed by a second pill 12 hours later). Sometimes, you can take both pills together. Follow the instructions for each specific brand.
Some women feel nauseous after they take emergency contraceptive pills. This feeling should go away in about 2 days. Your healthcare provider or pharmacist can suggest medicine to reduce nausea. Other possible side effects include:
- tender breasts
Things to consider
Keep in mind, emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You should not use any emergency contraception if you know you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding should not use pills that contain ulipristal acetate. Pills also are less effective for women who are overweight or obese. Instead, these women should use the copper IUD. Do not get an IUD if you:
- Have abnormal bleeding.
- Have cancer of the cervix or uterus.
- Are allergic to copper.
Emergency contraceptive pills can affect your menstrual cycle. Contact your healthcare provider if you do not get your period within 1 month after taking them. Your healthcare provider also can tell you when to start taking your regular form of birth control again. It will vary if you use a hormonal form, such as pills, shots, the patch, or a vaginal ring. If you use a barrier method, such as a diaphragm or condoms, you can start using it right away. If you do not use birth control, talk to your healthcare provider about which method will work best for you.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Sex and U Website (The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada)