If you have had unprotected sex or if your contraception has failed then emergency contraception can be used to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Emergency contraception should not be used as an alternative to proper means of contraception such as condoms.
Emergency contraception will not protect you from sexually transmitted infections. Male Condoms or female condoms are the only way to protect yourself against STIs. If you have put yourself at risk of catching an STI you should get tested, find your nearest sexual health clinic.
There are two kinds of emergency contraceptive:
- The morning after pill
- Intrauterine Device (IUD) - this page is about the morning after pill, to find out more about IUDs.
There are 2 types of emergency hormonal pills, (the morning after pill) Levonelle and ellaOne.
These are not meant to be used as a normal method of contraception, but only in an emergency and within a certain amount of time after you had sex.
It may now be a good time to think about which contraception you should use going forwards. Learn more about contraception here.
- Needs to be taken within 3 days since you had sex
- Doesn’t interfere with normal methods of contraception
- Contains a man-made version of progesterone that stops or delays the release of an egg (ovulation)
- Needs to be taken within 5 days since you had sex
- Stops progesterone working normally in the body which delays the release of an egg (ovulation)
The sooner you take emergency contraceptive pills the more effective they are. If taken within 24 hours they have around a 95% success rate.
If this number is not good enough for you then you should think about getting an IUD since this will prevent around 99% of pregnancies.
IUD’s can be fitted up to 5 days after sex, or up to 5 days after the earliuest time you could have ovulated. IUDs can also be left in and used as a normal method of contraception.
There are no serious side effects or long term issues from taking the morning after pill. However it can cause the following:
- Tummy ache
- Feeling or being sick - if you are sick within 2 hours of taking the emergency contraceptive pill then its effects may be lost. You should see your doctor as you will need to re-take another dose or arrange for an IUD to be fitted.
- Changes to next period - it may be more painful than usual, and can also be earlier or later than usual
Levonelle can be purchased without prescription from most pharmacies and also from your doctors or sexual health clinic.
ellaOne is by prescription only so you should speak to your doctor or the people at your sexual health clinic about this.
IUD’s must be fitted by a trained professional such as a doctor or nurse.