Emergency Contraception: What Is The Morning-After Pill?

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The Morning-After Pill is the most popular type of emergency contraceptive, used to prevent a pregnancy either after unprotected sex, or after your usual contraceptive methods have failed.

It works by preventing ovulation (release of an egg) and fertilization (sperm reaching the egg) meaning that a woman cannot become pregnant. It is not the same as an abortion pill which aborts a pregnancy which has already occurred.

The brand names of the two most popular pills are Levonelle and ellaOne. Often one of these pills will be more suitable than the other depending on age, typical methods of contraception, other medicines being taken, weight, and time since intercourse occurred. Consulting with a pharmacist or a doctor is required to ensure you are given the right treatment.

Levonelle contains a synthetic version of progesterone; ellaOne stops progesterone working normally. Both pills trick the body into thinking it has already ovulated and thicken the mucus in the cervix (neck of the womb), making it harder for any sperm to enter. They also change the lining of the womb so if any eggs were fertilized, they could not implant into it.

How and when should the Morning After Pill be taken?

It should be taken as soon after unprotected intercourse as possible, although, in the case of ellaOne, it can be taken up to five days (120 hours) afterward.

Either pill is taken as a single dose, has no serious side effects and can be taken with antibiotics.

When taken correctly, it is very effective. The overall chances of not getting pregnant are between 97% and 99%. It is thought that ellaOne is more effective than Levonelle.

Traditionally a face-to-face consultation is required to get the pill, either with a GP, pharmacist or family planning professional. These can be daunting and potentially embarrassing, but often result in the issue of a free prescription.

The alternative is completing an online pharmacy consultation, after which a prescription can be picked up in-store the same day, saving time while maintaining confidentiality.

There are also 100% online pharmacy services which offer the convenience of both online consultation and delivery to the door. Bear in mind though, that delivery time must be factored into the five-day window and that the sooner the pill is taken, the more effective it is likely to be.

Buying the pill either online or over-the-counter is not cheap; it costs around £30, depending on which pill is prescribed.

Are there any drawbacks or side effects?

The Morning After Pill cannot be used as a regular contraceptive. While it is safe to take more than one dose during a cycle if necessary, the pill is not suitable for regular use and does not continue to protect against pregnancy. Likewise, it does not protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).