When can I take the emergency contraceptive pill?

When can I take the emergency contraceptive pill?

The best time to take the emergency contraceptive pill (also known as the Morning After pill) is within 72 hours (3 days) after having unprotected sex. You can use emergency contraceptive pills if your regular birth control method fails. If you take the pill after 3 days of having unprotected sex, it may not work at all. Please remember that even if taken on time, the emergency contraceptive pill has a failure rate of 10-18%! It means that even if you take the pill within 72 hours, you have a little chance of becoming pregnant.

The ECP available consists of Levonorgestrel, while iPill and Unwanted72 are some of the common brands in the market.  It is popularly known as Plan B One-Step in the United States. The ECP is taken 72 hours (or 3 days) after unprotected sex or the failure of your regular form of contraception.1 If you haven't taken an ECP after 72 hours but 120 hours (5 days) have not yet passed, then the Copper-T IUD is a viable option. You can go to a doctor or nurse who can insert a Copper-T after evaluating you.

Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, Levonorgestrel works differently and can prevent pregnancy by preventing fertilization. It will prevent the release of an egg from your ovaries if you have not ovulated yet. But if you have already ovulated, these pills create an unfavorable environment in the uterus to prevent fertilization and implantation. However, if you weigh more than 74 kg, the emergency contraceptive pill may not be as effective. In this case, you should consult your doctor about using an IUD.

You must note that sometimes you may need another dose a few hours after the first one—if this is the case, they will mention it on the pack. Most (almost all) brands do not need this and usually require one dose. You should not take any extra doses as it will not give you any extra protection and will only cause you to experience more side effects. Another thing to remember is that you must take the pill again if you vomit or have diarrhea within 3 hours of taking it.

Also, do not use the emergency contraceptive pill to replace long-term and more regular methods of contraception such as condoms, IUDs, birth control pills, and so on. Finally, you should remember that the emergency contraceptive pill will not help terminate your pregnancy if you have already conceived. It only aims to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex but before you get pregnant. So, ECP cannot be used as an abortion pill.

What are the side effects of emergency contraceptive pills?

If you are planning to take the emergency contraceptive pill, you should know that most of the side effects of these pills are temporary and go away in a couple of days. The side effects of these pills are similar to those of oral contraceptive pills. Call your doctor if the side effects of emergency contraceptive pills last for a prolonged period.

The following are common minor side effects of emergency contraceptive pills:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Stomach cramps
  • Sore or tender breasts
  • Decreased sexual drive

How effective are emergency contraceptive pills? 

When determining the effectiveness of the emergency contraceptive pill in preventing pregnancy, it is critical to consider time. The emergency contraceptive pills work for up to 3 days or 72 hours after having unprotected sex. But, the sooner you take the emergency contraceptive pill, the more likely it is to prevent pregnancy. Despite the name "morning-after pill," you don't need to wait until the next day to take these pills.

What are the signs that the emergency contraceptive pill hasn't worked?

If you take the emergency contraceptive pill immediately after having unprotected sex, it can be very effective. The longer you wait to use the emergency contraceptive pill, the less effective it becomes. A missed period is one of the primary indicators that an emergency contraceptive pill hasn't worked. Take a pregnancy test if your period arrives more than three to four weeks later than the expected date.

The emergency contraceptive pill won't interfere with your fertility or make it more difficult for you to conceive in the future. 

Is there bleeding after taking the emergency contraceptive pill?

You might notice light bleeding called spotting after taking the morning-after pill. Although this does not happen to everyone who takes the morning-after pill, it is not something you should worry about. Consult your doctor if the bleeding gets heavier or occurs after you've missed a period. It's possible that implantation bleeding is the cause of spotting that occurs after a missed period. This light bleeding occurs early in fetal development when the embryo embeds itself in the uterine lining (endometrium).

Can emergency contraceptive pills make your period late or disrupt your cycle?

The morning-after pill may cause your next period to be irregular. If you have late or abnormal periods, contact your doctor and consider taking a home pregnancy test. They can advise you on the next steps if your menstrual cycle does not return to normal.

Can the emergency contraceptive pills affect my fertility?

The morning-after pill is not a long-term method of birth control. It will not affect your fertility or your chances of getting pregnant in the future. These pills are a temporary means to prevent pregnancy – they aren't long-term forms of birth control.

How many times can you take emergency contraception pills?

Even though there is no set limit on how many times you can take the morning-after pill, you should not take it as a primary method of birth control. This birth control is supposed to be used during emergencies where your birth control has failed, was not used, or in cases of nonconsensual intercourse. The morning-after pill is designed to be taken immediately after unprotected sex in order to prevent pregnancy. It's not meant to be regular birth control. You must discuss your birth control options with your doctor to find one that works best for your lifestyle.

Consult your doctor when:

You usually won't need to visit your doctor after taking the morning-after pill. However, if you haven't had your period within a week of when you expect it or if you see unusual bleeding, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor.  A missed period is one of the early indicators of pregnancy. It's also important to note that the morning-after pill won't protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you have any concerns that you could have been exposed to an STI, talk to your doctor.

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