What is the Morning-after Pill?

The “morning-after pill” or “plan b” is marketed as a type of “emergency contraception,” used after you have had unprotected sex or contraceptive failure such as a condom breaking. It contains the hormone levonorgestrel, a progestin, (Plan B One-Step®, Next Choice®) or ulipristal acetate, a progesterone agonist-antagonist, (Ella®).

Because “the morning-after pill” does not necessarily prevent fertilization but may prevent the new life from settling or implanting into the womb and continuing to grow there, many consider it an early abortion pill. It must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex and should not be taken if you are already pregnant as it may cause harm.

“Emergency contraceptives” are not as effective as regular birth control methods and should not be used as such. According to one study, “the morning-after pill” is only expected to prevent 84% of pregnancies when used properly. It does not protect against STIs and HIV/AIDS.

“The morning-after pill” isn’t appropriate for everyone. There are several factors that need to be taken into account. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking emergency contraceptives to learn more about the risk factors. You can also contact a Pregnancy Center listed on this site to discuss your situation.

How does “emergency contraception” work?

Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle and assuming you are at a point in your cycle that you are capable of becoming pregnant, “the morning-after pill” can work in one of 3 ways:

  1. Prevent or delay ovulation
  2. Thicken the cervical mucus, decreasing the chance of the sperm reaching and fertilizing the egg
  3. Change the lining of the uterus, preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. (Also considered an early abortion.)

Are there any side effects or health risks?

This information is from the Mayo Clinic website.

The morning-after pill isn’t appropriate for everyone. Your health care provider may discourage use of the morning-after pill if:

  • You’re allergic to any component of the morning-after pill
  • You have unexplained vaginal bleeding
  • You’re taking certain medications that may decrease the effectiveness of the morning-after pill, such as barbiturates or St. John’s wort

Morning after pill side effects may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Breast tenderness
  • Bleeding between periods or heavier menstrual bleeding
  • Lower abdominal pain or cramps
  • Diarrhea

Morning after pill side effects typically last only a few days.

Using the morning-after pill may delay your period by up to one week. If your period is more than one week late, take a pregnancy test. If you have bleeding or spotting that lasts longer than a week or develop severe lower abdominal pain three to five weeks after taking the morning-after pill, contact your health care provider. These may be signs or symptoms of a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy — when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube.

An estimated 1 to 2 out of 100 women who have unprotected sex one time and correctly use the morning-after pill will get pregnant. The morning-after pill doesn’t offer protection from sexually transmitted infections.

References

Birth Control Guide. FDA Office of Women’s Health. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForConsumers/ByAudience/ForWomen/FreePublications/UCM207070.pdf

Morning-after pill: Definition. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/morning-after-pill/MY01190

Morning-after pill: Risks. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/morning-after-pill/MY01190/DSECTION=risks

Frequently Asked Questions. Plan B One-Step. http://planbonestep.com/plan-b-faq.aspx

Emergency Contraception: Morning After Pill. American Pregnancy Association. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/preventingpregnancy/emergencycontraception.html

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