Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts. (That means the EC pills are not the same as the abortion pill.) There are 4 types of EC to choose from. All 4 types work up to 5 days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. But use it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant.

Types of emergency contraception:

Copper-T IUD. This is the most effective EC there is. Have a provider insert it within 5 days of unprotected sex. It will lower your chance of pregnancy by 99.9%

Ella. The newest form of EC is a one-pill formula available by prescription. It blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive. Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex and, unlike other EC pills, does not decrease in effectiveness during those 5 days.

Plan B/Next Choice. Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice, My Way, After Pill, and Levonorgestrel. Available over the counter or online without a prescription. This is similar to birth control pills, but at a much higher dose. It can work up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day. If you want to use this method, you should use it as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

Yuzpe Method. You can use certain birth control pills as EC if you follow the Yuzpe Regimen guidelines. It is not as effective as other EC options. Works best up to 3 days following unprotected sex.

Quick facts:

  • EC provides the possibility of pregnancy prevention.
  • Effectiveness: ParaGard as EC is extremely effective; EC pills are somewhat effective (not as good as lots of methods you can use before or during sex)
    • Perfect use: greater than

      99%

    • Typical use: greater than

      99%

  • Side effects: with ParaGard you might have increased blood flow, cramping; EC pills can cause upset stomach and vomiting
  • Effort: variable. With ParaGard, it is inserted once and lasts for years. The number and dose of pills depends on the brand.

Emergency Contraception

Quick facts:

Emergency Contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts. (That means the EC pills are not the same as the abortion pill.) There are 4 types of EC to choose from. All 4 types work up to 5 days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. But use it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant.

Types of emergency contraception:

Copper-T IUD. This is the most effective EC there is. Have a provider insert it within 5 days of unprotected sex. It will lower your chance of pregnancy by 99.9%

Ella. The newest form of EC is a one-pill formula available by prescription. It blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive. Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex and, unlike other EC pills, does not decrease in effectiveness during those 5 days.

Plan B/Next Choice. Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice, My Way, After Pill, and Levonorgestrel. Available over the counter or online without a prescription. This is similar to birth control pills, but at a much higher dose. It can work up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day. If you want to use this method, you should use it as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

Yuzpe Method. You can use certain birth control pills as EC if you follow the Yuzpe Regimen guidelines. It is not as effective as other EC options. Works best up to 3 days following unprotected sex.

  • EC provides the possibility of pregnancy prevention.
  • Effectiveness: ParaGard as EC is extremely effective; EC pills are somewhat effective (not as good as lots of methods you can use before or during sex)
    • Perfect use: greater than

      99%

    • Typical use: greater than

      99%

  • Side effects: with ParaGard you might have increased blood flow, cramping; EC pills can cause upset stomach and vomiting
  • Effort: variable. With ParaGard, it is inserted once and lasts for years. The number and dose of pills depends on the brand.

You had an accident with your contraception. If the condom broke, or you forgot to take your pill, insert your ring, apply your patch, or if your diaphragm slipped – anything like that – you may want to use EC.

Withdrawal gone wrong. You can also use EC if you arenot sure your partner pulled out in time.

You got swept up in the moment. If you did not use any protection during sex and do not want to get pregnant, think about EC. But make sure you use it within five days of the unprotected sex.

For scary situations. If you have been raped, or if you had sex with someone who refused to use another form of contraception, consider EC.

Keep some on hand. The sooner you take EC, the more effective it is. So it is not a bad idea to keep a box of one of the EC pill varieties available, just in case you need it.

The EC that keeps going. If you find yourself in need of EC and want a longer-lasting solution, the ParaGard IUD is the most effective EC option. It can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex. You will have an easy and super-effective birth control method for up to 12 years.

Though Emergency Contraception does the job, there are other more preventative, cost-effective forms of birth control available. If you have unprotected sex, it is the quickest and easiest option out there after you have sex. Here are the different types you can choose from.

Cooper-T IUD. This is the most effective EC there is. If you get the ParaGard IUD inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex, it can lower the chance of pregnancy by 99.9%. You will need to make an appointment with a health care provider to have this procedure.

Ella. Take the one-pill formula within 5 days after unprotected sex.

Levonorgestrel-based pills. All levonorgestrel-based EC pills work like birth control pills, but at a much higher dose and taken temporarily. Best used as soon as possible, though they can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, and My Way consist of just one pill needs to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

Next Choice and Levonorgestrel are both two-pill formulas. The instructions say to take one pill right away and the second 12 hours later, but research shows you can also take both pills at the same time.

The Yuzpe Regimen. Some everyday birth control pills can be used as EC. If you go that route, which is called the Yuzpe regimen, you need to take the pills in two doses, 12 hours apart. And it only works with certain brands.

Remember: use EC as soon as possible after you have had unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better – within 24-hours to three days is ideal. Emergency Contraception will still reduce your risk of pregnancy for up to 5 days. (The instructions for Plan B and Next Choice say to take it within 72 hours after sex, but studies show that Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and Levonorgestrel can be taken up to 5 days after sex.)

Want more detail? Check out all the information on the Not-2-Late website.

Everyone is different. What you experience may not be the same thing as another woman.

The Positive: there are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.

  • Ella
    • Offers protection and peace of mind after unprotected sex
    • Does not decrease in effectiveness during the five-day window after unprotected sex
  • Yuzpe Regimen
    • Offers protection and peace of mind after unprotected sex
    • Can use the pills you already have on hand

The Negative: everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they are not a problem. And if you do experience side effects with EC, they will probably go away after 24 hours.

  • Ella
    • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
    • Could cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches
    • Requires a prescription
  • Yuzpe Regimen
    • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
    • Could cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches
    • Women tend to have more side effects – particularly the nausea – with Yuzpe than with other EC pills

It is the least effective of your EC options

Emergency contraception is not supposed to be used as a primary method of birth control. If you have trouble with the method you are using right now, you may want to switch to a low-maintenance method like the IUD or the implant.

Does emergency contraception work the same way as the abortion pill?

  • If you are already pregnant (even if you do not know it yet), EC will not work. EC can only prevent a pregnancy from starting; it cannot stop one that already has. And if you accidentally take EC before you know you are pregnant, it will not hurt you or the pregnancy.

Is EC less effective if you are using an enzyme inducer (such as Dilantin, rifampicin, griseofulvin, or St. John’s Wort)?

  • Medications and herbal supplements that may make regular birth control pills less effective may also reduce the effectiveness of emergency contraceptive pills. So if you are using an enzyme inducer, it probably makes sense to increase the dose of EC. You should talk to your provider about how much to increase the dose.

What if the EC makes me nauseous?

  • To prevent nausea and vomiting, you can take the non-prescription anti-nausea medicine meclizine (also sold under the brand names Dramamine II or Bonine) an hour before taking the first dose of EC. Note that this might make you drowsy.
  • If you end up puking within an hour of taking a dose of EC, you may want to take that dose again in case your body did not absorb the hormones yet.