Emergency contraception is a safe and effective means to prevent pregnancy when you have had unprotected sex or something has gone wrong with your usual method of contraception. No contraceptive method is100% effective and few couples can use their method perfectly every time they have sex.
You may be able to reduce your risk of getting pregnant by using emergency contraception but you need to act without delay.
There are two kinds of emergency contraception; the emergency contraceptive pill ('the morning after pill') and the copper intra-uterine device ('IUD' or the 'coil').
Click here to view 'my guide to emergency contraception' which details emergency contraception options avialble from bpas. bpas currently provides Levonelle as emergency contraception, however there are other options, such as ellaOne and the IUD (the coil) which can be sourced elsewhere.
Emergency contraception before the emergency
At bpas we offer emergency contraception in advance of need at our clinics. Click here to book an appointment.
At bpas the doctor checks that there are no medical reasons to prevent the use of ECPs should the need for them arise. Written information is given to keep with the pills to remind you how to use them and there is an opportunity to discuss other contraception-related issues. There is no need for a physical examination and the appointment lasts just a few minutes.
Emergency contraceptive pills can also be obtained from online pharmacies - click here for information about buying emergency contraception online in advance of need
Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs)
There are two kinds of emergency contraceptive pills, Levonelle and ellaOne. Only Levonelle is currently available at bpas.
How does the Emergency Contraceptive Pill Work?
The emergency contraceptive pill mainly works by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation). It may also affect the lining of the womb so a fertised egg cannot settle there.
When do I take it?
Levonelle can be taken up to 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex. ellaOne can be used up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex.
How effective is it?
The sooner the Levonelle is taken after unprotected sex, the better it is likely to work. If taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, Levonelle will prevent up to 95% of pregnancies expected to have occurred if emergency contraception had not been used. If taken between 25 to 48 hours after sex, it will prevent up to 85% of pregnancies and between 49 to 72 hours after sex, it will prevent up to 58% of pregnancies that would have been expected to occur.
ellaOne is believed to be more effective than Levonelle and works as well regardless of when it is taken after unprotected sex (up to 120 hours).
Can it fail?
Yes it can fail. It is not 100% effective
When is it more likely to fail?
With Levonelle the likelyhood of it not working increases the longer you wait to take it after unprotected sex.
If you vomit within two hours of taking the pill. If this happens, you should speak to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
If you have had unprotected sex at any other time since your last period or since taking the emergency contraceptive pill
Will the emergency contraceptive pill give me ongoing protection against pregnancy?
No. The emergency contraceptive pill will not give you any ongoing protection against pregnancy if you have unprotected sex again. If this happens, you should seek some advice. It is possible you may need to use emergency contraception again. Emergency contraception is not as reliable as a regular method of contraception. ECPs do not protect against sexually transmitted infections.
Are there any side effects?
Yes, there can be side effects. You might feel sick/vomit or have headaches, dizziness, tiredness, breast tenderness or abdominal pain after taking the ECPs.
Can anyone use the emergency contraceptive pill?
Almost all women can use emergency contraception even those who may not be able to use the combined contraceptive pills or contraceptive patch. Women who are breastfeeding can also use the emergency contraceptive pill. Certain medicines (both prescribed and complementary) can affect the emergency contraceptive pill and in this case, you should seek advice.
What else should I know about the emergency contraceptive pill?
Your next period may arrive at the expected time or be a little early or late. For some women, their next period can be late by a week or more. You may also get some spotting or heavier bleeding up the the time your period arrives. Studies suggest that emergency contraception has no effect at all on an established pregnancy. When the emergency contraceptive pill fails to prevent pregnancy, there is no evidence that the fetus will be damaged by the pill.
The emergency contraceptive pill poses little risk to women’s health and there is no limit to how many times you use Levonelle. It is recommended that ellaOne is taken only once during a cycle. There is also no age limit for smokers.
How will I know if it has worked?
If your next period seems like a normal period, it is unlikely that you are pregnant. However, you should do a pregnancy test if you feel pregnant, if your period has not arrived within 3 weeks of taking the emergency contraceptive pill or if you do not have a bleed at the expected time if you are taking the combined pill. If you do a pregnancy test from 3 weeks after the last time you had unprotected sex, the test result should be reliable.
Where can I get the emergency contraceptive pill?
Levonelle is available from bpas centres across the country, GPs, family planning clinics, and can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy. ellaOne is only available with a prescription from your GP or family planning clinic.
Click here for information about buying emergency contraception in advance of need
Copper IUD ('the coil')
bpas does not provide copper coils as an emergency contraception. This is a small plastic and copper T shaped device which is placed inside the uterus (womb).
It is over 99% effective as a method of contraception and as a method of emergency contraception, it will prevent up to 98% of pregnancies that would have been expected to occur. It can be fitted up to five days following unprotected sex or contraception failure.
How does it work?
It may work by preventing an egg being fertilized or being implanted in the womb.
Are there any side effects?
Some women can experience cramping pains and/or light bleeding for 3 to 4 days following fitting. Painkillers taken before fitting and in the following days can help to ease this.
When can it be fitted?
Up to 5 days after unprotected sex at any point in the menstrual cycle, if this is the only episode of unprotected sex that has happened since the woman’s last period.
If a woman has had more than one episode of unprotected sex since her last period, an IUD can be fitted up to 5 days after the earliest time she would have been expected to ovulate (release an egg).
Who is it not suitable for?
Women who are allergic to copper.
Women who have experienced problems with the womb or neck of the womb (cervix).
Can there sometimes be problems with the IUD?
Sometimes the womb can expel, or push, the IUD out. Sometimes an IUD can be pushed through the womb when it is fitted, causing a perforation. There is a very small chance of pelvic infection in the first 20 days following IUD fitting.
It is the most effective method of emergency contraception and it can be used as a woman’s ongoing method of contraception if the woman and doctor agree it is the right method for her.
Where can I get a Copper IUD?
The Copper IUD is available from family planning clinics and some GPs.