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  • Writer's pictureGrace Health

When Is Emergency Contraception Most Effective?

Emergency contraception has been such a lifesaver (no pun intended). It offers people a chance to avoid unwanted pregnancy after having unprotected vaginal sex. It can also be helpful if you did not use your regular contraceptive correctly or in the unfortunate circumstance that you were sexually assaulted.

But what’s the point of an emergency contraceptive if you don’t use it in the stipulated time frame? So let’s find out when it is most effective.

What is an emergency contraceptive?

Emergency contraceptives(ECPs), which are also called “morning-after pills” are contraceptives that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. They use high levels of the hormones found in birth control pills to prevent pregnancy.

What does it do?

  • Stops or delays the release of an egg from your ovaries until the sperm aren’t active in your body anymore.

  • Prevents the sperm from fertilising an egg by changing the way the sperm moves in your body.

  • Doesn’t work once the egg has been fertilised.

  • Doesn’t harm you or a developing embryo.

What are my options?

There are 2 methods of emergency contraception:

  • A copper intrauterine device (IUD), or coil, is the most effective type of emergency contraception and can also act as your new long-term method of contraception once it’s been placed in your vagina.

  • The emergency contraceptive pill (ECP), or the morning-after pill. There are 2 types of emergency contraceptive pills – Postinor, Levonelle and EllaOne.

When can I take the ECP?

Now for the answer, you have all been waiting for. It should be taken up to 72 hours after sex (three days). However, for most people, it is still effective up to four days after sex. A few scenarios that allow a call for the morning-after pill are:

  • The condom broke, or you missed one or more of your birth control pill(s)

  • You think your birth control may have failed due to other medications you were taking

  • Having unexpected unprotected sex

  • Sexual assault

How effective is it?

If you are of average weight the ECP has an effective rate of 98%. However, if you weigh more than 70kg, the ECP is not as effective. In this situation, a copper IUD is recommended. If you vomit within three hours of taking the ECP you’ll need to get another one. Talk to your doctor if you are also on any other medication as you may need extra ECPs or a copper IUD. You can learn more about the effectiveness of other contraceptives and see how they compare here!

Are there any side effects?

Some people complain of mild side effects like (nausea) or vomiting. If this happens to you, you can opt to take the pill with food to lessen the chance of nausea.

Some other common minor side effects of both types of the morning-after pill include:

  • bleeding or spotting between periods

  • tender breasts

  • feel lightheaded

  • headache

  • fatigue

There’s also a small chance of ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus) if the ECP fails. This can occur with any pregnancy and can be dangerous. If you have cramping or bleeding, see a doctor. After taking the pill and you still suspect you are pregnant, have a pregnancy test three to four weeks after you use the ECP.

What else should I know about the ECP?

  • It doesn't make it harder for you to get pregnant later on.

  • It won’t cause an abortion if you are already pregnant.

  • It contains progestogen, which is a very safe hormone.

  • Don’t take it as a regular contraceptive

  • If you use the Ella, you can only take it once.

  • Plan B One-Step and generic levonorgestrel are not harmful if you use them more than once.

In summary

ECP should be taken up to 72 hours after sex (three days). However, for most people, it is still effective up to four days after sex. It has an effective rate of 98% depending on your weight. Remember to talk to a medical professional before using one especially if you are on any other medication or you experience some side effects.

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