We all know that things don’t always go to plan. You missed out on the top sports team, your scholarship application wasn’t successful, your dream job went to Sandy from Marketing, or the condom broke.
If your desire is NOT to have a baby, and you don’t take a regular form of contraception, then you don’t want to leave things up to chance. Unless that is, you are completely sure you are at a phase in your menstrual cycle where you can’t get pregnant.
Here’s where emergency contraception steps in. Known by lots of different names such as the ECP, the “Morning After Pill”, or simply by brand names, such as Plan B, My Way, or ella; the ECP is a way to prevent pregnancy in women who have decided that it is not the right time in their life for a baby or who have suffered a sexual assault.
There are a few common misconceptions about the ECP. The first is that it causes abortions. It doesn’t. There is a pill that does cause abortions…more correctly speaking, it is two different pills given within a couple of days of each other, mifepristone and misoprostol. ECPs don’t work in the same way as these pills. ECPs delay or prevent ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary), interfere with the viability or motility of sperm, or prevent implantation of an egg. ECPs will not terminate an already established pregnancy, no matter how many of them you take or what brand you take.
The second misconception is that ECPs must be taken the morning after. Although they are best taken as soon as possible, ECPs that contain levonorgestrel (EContra EZ, Fallback Solo, My Way, Next Choice, Opcicon One-Step, Plan B One-Step) have good effectiveness when taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Levonorgestrel ECPs can be obtained from a pharmacy without a prescription or ID, and while they should not be used as a regular form of contraception, experts consider them safe if taken multiple times during the same menstrual cycle. Their effects last for around 24 hours, so only one dose is needed if sex occurs several times during that 24-hour time-frame.
Ella is different. It is an ECP that contains ulipristal and has a distinct way of working although its effect is similar– delaying ovulation or preventing implantation of an egg. Ella can only be obtained from a doctor unless you live in one of the nine states where pharmacists have been authorized to supply it on a prescription. It retains its effectiveness for up to five days (120 hours) following unprotected sex, but it should not be given repeated times during the same menstrual cycle. Do not take ella if there is any chance you could already be pregnant.
Irregular bleeding or spotting, persistent bleeding and delayed periods are reported by almost 50% of women who take ECPs. Although this is common, and usually nothing to worry about, you should consider performing a pregnancy test or seeing a doctor if your expected period is more 7 days late.
For more information see the Drugs.com Emergency Contraception and the Morning After Pill article;