What You Need To Know About Emergency Contraception
What You Need To Know About Emergency Contraception

What You Need To Know About Emergency Contraception

Navigating the world of sexual health can be daunting, especially when it comes to emergency contraception. To learn more about the options and dispel some common myths, we asked a GP and a gynaecologist to share their top dos and don’ts.
By Tor West
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Image: TATJANA ZLATKOVIC/STOCKSY UNITED

DO...

Understand Your Options

“Emergency contraception comes in two different types: the ‘morning after pill’ or an intrauterine device like an IUD or coil. There are two main brands of pill on the market in the UK. Levonelle works up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. EllaOne is also an oral tablet, and it can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex. Both work by delaying or preventing ovulation. Emergency contraception is over 95% effective if taken at the right time. It may not be the most popular or well-known form of emergency contraception, but the copper IUD is more effective than the morning after pill – 99% effective if fitted within five days. However, you’ll need to visit your GP or local family planning clinic to get it fitted, and you may struggle to get an appointment in this timeframe.” – Michelle Swer, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology 

Take Extra Precautions If You Missed A Pill

“If you’re considering emergency contraception due to a missed pill, you’ll need to use additional contraception for up to seven days. The two types of morning after pill contain progesterone, which can compete with the progesterone in the combined pill as well as coils like Mirena and the implant. So, there’s a chance emergency contraception may not be as effective if a form of progesterone contraception has been taken seven days prior. If you take Levonelle, you’ll need to use additional contraception, such as a condom, for seven days; it’s 14 days if you take ellaOne.” – Michelle  

Expect Some Side Effects

“When taken in the correct timeframe, some of the most common side effects of the morning after pill include tummy pain and headaches; irregular menstrual bleeding (spotting or heavy bleeding) before your next period is due; a delayed period (it’s always best to do a pregnancy test regardless three weeks later); feeling sick or vomiting; breast tenderness; and dizziness. Seek medical advice if you vomit within two hours of taking Levonelle, or three hours of taking ellaOne, as you’ll need to take another dose or have an IUD fitted.” – Michelle 

Think About Your BMI

“If you weigh more than 70kg (with a BMI of 26 or above), emergency pills may not be as effective. An IUD device may be a better option for those with a higher BMI.” – Dr Deborah Lee, GP at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy

Book An STI Test

“Neither type of morning after pill nor an IUD protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes. If you think you may have picked up an STI, consider getting tested, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Ask your GP or local sexual health clinic about this, or order a test kit online from a reputable online pharmacy.” – Michelle 

Think About The Coil If You Want Long-Term Contraception

“It’s often not appreciated that the insertion of an IUD is the most reliable way to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. The IUD can either be left in place – for five to ten years or more – or removed after your next period. An emergency IUD almost never fails to prevent an unplanned pregnancy and is quoted as having a failure rate of 0.1%. However, to use it as a form of emergency contraception, you’ll need to know your cycle inside out. To be effective, it must be inserted up to five days after the earliest calculated day of ovulation. If you have a 28-day cycle, this means a copper IUD can be inserted any day of the cycle up to day 19, even if you’ve had unprotected sex more than once since the last period. If you have a shorter or longer cycle, you need to be sure you have your dates right. If there is any doubt, an IUD isn’t a reliable option.” – Daisy 

DESPITE THE NAME, THE MORNING AFTER PILL DOESN’T NEED TO BE TAKEN IN THE MORNING. THE SOONER YOU TAKE IT, THE MORE EFFECTIVE IT IS.

DON'T...

Rely On It

“One of the many myths surrounding the morning after pill is that you can’t take it more than once a month. This isn’t true. While not ideal, you can take emergency contraception more than once a month, although it’s best to stick to the same type if you do. At the same time, you shouldn’t rely on it as a regular method of birth control. First, other forms of contraception are more effective (the implant and injection, for example, are 99% effective and this efficacy lasts for the lifespan of the method) and second, the safety of repeated use of emergency contraception hasn’t been studied.” – Daisy 

Just Take It In The Morning

“Despite the name, the morning after pill doesn’t always need to be taken in the morning. The sooner you take it, the more effective it is. The name ‘morning after’ can be misleading – you should ideally take it straight away.” – Daisy 

Worry About Your Fertility

“Another myth is that taking emergency contraception frequently can make you infertile. This is not true. The hormone used in emergency oral tablets is the same as the one used in the hormonal contraceptive pill and is short lasting. With regards to the coil, this tends to be used as a long-term form of contraception and has no impact on the hormones affecting your menstrual cycle.” – Michelle 

Think It’s The Same As An Abortion

“Taking the ‘morning after’ pill is not the same as having a termination. Emergency contraception prevents a pregnancy from happening, but not stopping a pregnancy if already developed. The hormones used are not the same for the pills used in the medical management of a termination.” – Michelle  

Expect To Always Pay For It

“If you go to your local pharmacy, you’ll need to pay for the morning after pill – it’s usually around £25. However, you can also get it free at your local sexual health clinic (you can find your nearest clinic here), GP surgery, A&E department, walk-in centre, Brook advisory and some community pharmacies.” – Daisy 

Hesitate To Speak To Your GP

“If you think you’re at risk of pregnancy and don’t want to be pregnant, seek medical advice as soon as possible from your GP or local sexual health clinic. Time is of the essence, so you need to make contact right away – don’t wait until tomorrow. The rules surrounding contraception are often thought to be complicated, but your GP or nurse will help explain and sort out what’s best to do in your situation.” – Daisy 

For more from the experts, visit London-Gynaecology.com & DoctorFox.co.uk

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