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The Morning After Pill: 10 Things To Know

Wed, May 20, 2015 4:05pm EDT by 1 Comment

Emergency contraception — otherwise known as the morning after pill — is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. But, here’s everything you need to know before you take it!

To prevent unplanned pregnancies after unprotected sex, many women look to use emergency contraception. But what should you know before you consider using the morning after pill? We asked an expert, Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway, author of The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy, for the facts. Here are 10 things to know.

Emergency Contraception Facts

1. What is the morning after pill?

The morning after pill is an emergency birth control method that can be used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy after unprotected sex. It can also be used in instances of failed birth control methods, such as a broken condom, missed birth control pills, or if there has been sexual rape or assault. There are two forms to know about: progestin only and a combination of progesterone and estrogen. So what does that mean for you? “The progestin-only pill can be found in the family planning section of a drug store or pharmacy and does not require a prescription if you are a woman or man age 17 or older,” says Dr. Burke-Galloway. “A prescription is required for girls under age 17.”

2. Are there any side effects?

According to Dr. Burke-Galloway, short-term effects can include nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, abdominal pain, headache, and/or fatigue in a small percentage of women. There’s also a chance of irregular bleeding (meaning the menstrual period comes either a week before or a week after the expected time).

3. Are there any risks? 

The greatest risk factor is the patient’s weight. Obese patients — a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or greater — have a “four-fold higher risk of pregnancy.” 

4. Should you speak with a doctor before taking the pill?

“Overall, a physical exam is not necessary before taking the morning after pill,” Dr. Burke-Galloway says. “However, women who have a history of liver disease, poorly controlled asthma, suspected pregnancy, history of migraine headaches, heart disease, or history of blood clots should seek medical advice prior to using the pill.”

5. What’s the window of time for taking the pill? 

The earlier you take the pill, the more effective it will be. However, if required, it can be taken up to 5 days after having unprotected sex.

6. Is it safe? 

Yes. “According to medical studies, no deaths have been associated with its use nor has it caused abortions or harmed future fertility,” assures Dr. Burke-Galloway.

7. So, how does it work? 

“In simple terms, it prevents ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary,” explains Dr. Burke-Galloway.

8. If you use birth control, do you need emergency contraception? 

If there was a risk of inadequate use — like missed birth control pills, a broken condom, etc. — then you should use emergency contraception.

9. Are there any misconceptions about the morning after pill?

The biggest myth is that “its availability would encourage irresponsible sexual behavior, leading to more pregnancies, but medical studies have proven this to be unfounded,” says Dr. Burke-Galloway.

10. If the morning after pill isn’t for you, are there other alternatives? 

“Yes, a woman can have the Copper-T IUD inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex as a method of emergency contraception,” Dr. Burke-Galloway informs. “If desired, it can remain as a long-term birth control method but of course, this device has to be inserted by a healthcare professional.”

— Susan Johnson