Emergency Contraception Guide: When & How to Use the Morning After Pill

day after
An emergency contraceptive pill is called so because it’s designed to be used during emergency situations. Nothing as dire as involving hospitals and paramedics, but a major situation nonetheless.

What could be worse than an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy? This is especially true if the circumstances surrounding the event is not of your choosing or happened against your will.

What most people don’t know, however, is that the “morning after pill” is only effective when used properly and at the right time. Failure to do so could mean major consequences. Time to learn more about it, then.

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What an emergency contraceptive pill is

This pill stops you from becoming pregnant following unprotected sex or when a condom breaks. Although often called the morning after pill or day after pill, it is best used as soon as possible. The quicker it is taken, the more effective it is in preventing pregnancy.

Emergency contraceptive pills come in many forms. Some can be taken up to 3 days after intercourse, while other can be taken up to 5 days after. This underlines the importance of knowing your options.

It is also important to note that emergency contraception is not a form of abortion or similar to an abortion pill. What it does is ensure that ovulation doesn’t happen or makes the lining of a woman’s womb unreceptive to a man’s swimmers.

What the emergency contraceptive pill is not

The morning after pill is not a replacement for a regular birth control, which means is not formulated for a long term use. Since it is likely to cause your fertility to bounce back rapidly, make sure to use regular contraception after taking the emergency contraceptive pill.

It is not recommended for frequent use either as it may result in irregular and unpredictable menstrual cycle.

How effective is a morning after pill?

This will depend on the amount of time that has elapsed after unprotected sex. But with the right emergency contraceptive pill, an unwanted pregnancy could be avoided effectively. One thing is certain, however, is that it becomes less effective when taken closer to ovulation.

When to take the morning after pill?

As already established, you don’t need to take the emergency contraceptive the morning after sexual intercourse. The sooner you take it, the better. But it is most effective within a 24-hour period.

However, if you don’t have access to the emergency contraceptive pill, doing so within 72 hours or 3 days would still work. Depending on the type of pill you take, it will remain effective if taken up to 5 days after unprotected sexual intercourse. At any time of your menstrual cycle, you can also use the pill.

How to use the emergency contraceptive pill?

The how will depend on the type of pill you acquire. In the United States, there are two types you can choose from – Ulipristal Acetate and Progestin-only emergency contraception. Each type has specifications you must know before you hit the pharmacy and buy one.


ella contraception

  • A type of Ulipristal Acetate emergency contraceptive pill
  • Can only be obtained with a prescription
  • More effective than a progestin-only emergency pill, especially when taken on the 5th day after intercourse.
  • More effective if you take it closer to your ovulation period.
  • If you use Ella, you can take the pill within 5 days after sexual intercourse

Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, and My Way

  • Examples of progestin-only emergency pills
  • Available directly on the shelf. Men and women can buy it without the need to present an ID or a prescription.
  • More effective when taken within 4 or 5 days after sexual intercourse, but most effective when taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex.

If you choose to take any of these progestin-only emergency pills, make sure to follow the prescribed use to ensure it will work as intended.

Based on the information provided, it is important that you know which pill to buy and when to take it. If you’re unsure about your ovulation period, it is best to take a progestin-only morning after pill as soon as possible.

Plan B One-Step, for example, can prevent the risk of pregnancy by 89% when taken 72 hours after, and about 95% when taken within 24 hours. [1]

When buying emergency contraception, always check the expiration date. No point in buying one if it will no longer work, to begin with.

Call your doctor in the event that you throw-up or feel nauseous a couple of hours after taking the morning after pill.

What are the potential side effects of emergency pills?

Whether or not you will experience side effects depends on several factors, but some possible side effects include a headache, dizziness, nausea, breast tenderness, and lower abdominal pain.

There have been no cases of serious complications, but it is best to consult your doctor if the side effects persist for a week or longer.

The pill is likely to have an effect on your menstrual cycle, causing irregular bleeding or spotting before the start of your next period. There are also reports of either lighter or heavier than normal bleeding, and for the next period to come either sooner or later.

In the event that your period is more than a week late, you might want to take a pregnancy test.


To sum it up, a morning after pill is best used within 24 hours or 72 hours after unprotected sex. However, when taken closer to your ovulation period, it becomes less effective to not at all. [2]

Under the circumstances, it will be futile to blame the pill for it being ineffective. Make sure you obtain the right type of pill and take it as recommended.

Better yet, keep a stock at home as a precaution. With a 24-month shelf life, you only need to buy one blister pack for two years. Order your pack on Amazon or get it at a local pharmacy!

Image: Bigstock


    1. https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/plan-b
    2. http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-the-morning-after-pill-and-how-does-it-work-24259

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