What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception is a type of birth control that is used after one has had unprotected sex. To prevent pregnancy it must be used as soon as possible within three to five days after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception does not work if you are already pregnant. Emergency contraception is safe and more effective if you use it shortly after you have unprotected sex. 

When should I use emergency contraception?

Don’t use emergency contraception regularly as your only protection from pregnancy. It is not as effective as regular, non-emergency birth control methods (like the IUD, pill, or condoms).

You can prevent pregnancy with emergency contraception if:

  • The condom broke or slipped off, and he ejaculated in your vagina.
  • You forgot to take your birth control pills, insert your ring, or apply your patch.
  • Your diaphragm or cap slipped out of place, and he ejaculated inside your vagina.
  • You miscalculated your "safe" days.
  • He didn't pull out in time.
  • You weren't using any birth control.
  • You were forced to have unprotected vaginal sex, or you were raped.
  • You messed up your regular birth control (forgot to take your birth control pills, change your patch or ring, or get your shot on time) and had vaginal sex.

If you use emergency contraception correctly after you have unprotected sex, it makes it much less likely that you’ll get pregnant. 

What types of emergency contraception are there?

There are two types of emergency contraception that must be started within 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sexual intercourse:

  1. Emergency contraceptive pills (ECP)
  2. Insertion of a copper-T IUD

Emergency contraceptive pills (ECP)

One type of emergency contraception uses hormones that are the same type and dosage as hormones used in ordinary birth control pills (estrogen and progestin: combined ECPs) and another type with the hormone, progestin (progestin-only ECPs).

One brand name of combined ECPs is called Preven and is specially packaged and labeled for emergency use. There are several other brands packaged for ongoing contraception that can be used as well. Progestin-only pills do not contain estrogens, only progesterone. This type is specially packaged and labeled for use as the brand name Plan B.

Emergency contraceptive pills or "morning-after pills" have different names and hormones:

  • Levlen (one dose is 4 light-orange pills)
  • Levlite (one dose is 5 pink pills)
  • Levora (one dose is 4 white pills)
  • Lo/Ovral (one dose is 4 white pills)
  • Low-Ogestrel (one dose is 4 white pills)
  • Nordette (one dose is 4 light-orange pills)
  • Ovral (one dose is 2 white pills)
  • Ogestrel (one dose is 2 white pills)
  • Preven (one dose is 2 blue pills)
  • Triphasil (one dose is 4 yellow pills)
  • Tri-Levlen (one dose is 4 yellow pills)
  • Trivora (one dose is 4 pink pills)

What are the side effects of emergency contraceptive pills?

About 25% of the women who take the progestin-only pills have nausea and about 5% vomit. About 50% of women who use combined ECPs experience nausea and 20% vomit. If you vomit within 1-2 hours after taking the pills, you should probably repeat the dose you took.

Insertion of a copper-T IUD

Insertion of a copper-T IUD is a very effective way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse.

Learn more about other birth control methods in our Birth Control Guide!

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