Emergency contraception treatments
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About emergency contraception
What is the morning after pill?
The morning after pill is a type of emergency contraception.
You can use emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy if you’ve had unprotected sex. Unprotected sex means having sex without any regular contraception, like condoms or the birth control pill. You can also use the morning after pill if your regular contraceptive has failed, such as if the condom splits.
There are 2 types of morning after pills available: EllaOne and Levonelle. EllaOne contains the active ingredient ulipristal acetate, whereas Levonelle contains levonorgestrel. These ingredients work by delaying the release of an egg from your ovaries (ovulation). They can also thicken your cervical mucus to make it difficult for sperm to enter your womb.
You should take a morning after pill within the first 24 hours for the pill to be most effective. Even though it’s called the morning after pill, you can take the pill up to:
- 72 hours after you’ve had unprotected sex, for Levonelle or levonorgestrel
- 120 hours after you’ve had unprotected sex, for EllaOne (ulipristal)
You can request EllaOne or Levonelle from ZAVA and have it delivered to your home for immediate use or future use.
How effective is the morning after pill?
EllaOne is more effective than Levonelle (levonorgestrel) as a morning after pill. You can take EllaOne within 5 days (120 hours) after having unprotected sex.
EllaOne is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. The sooner you take EllaOne following unprotected sex, the more effective it will be.
Levonelle is effective up to 3 days (72 hours) after having unprotected sex. If you take Levonelle within 24 hours, it’ll be 95% effective at preventing pregnancy.
You can also request generic Levonelle from ZAVA. Generic Levonelle is known as levonorgestrel, and contains the same active ingredient as Levonelle. This means that they work in the same way. Generic Levonelle is also effective up to 3 days after having unprotected sex.
The morning after pill will not be effective if you have already ovulated (released an egg from your ovaries). Ovulation usually happens in the middle of your menstrual cycle, or around 10 to 16 days after your period. You can keep track of your menstrual cycle using a period tracking app.
The morning after pill will not be effective if you’re already pregnant, and it will not harm the developing baby (foetus) if you take it without realising that you’re pregnant.
The morning after pill is only effective after unprotected sex. If you have unprotected sex again after taking the morning after pill, it will not cover you for the second instance of sex.
Certain medications can make the morning after pill less effective. This includes:
- epilepsy treatment, such as primidone, phenobarbital, phenytoin and barbiturates
- tuberculosis treatment, such as rifampicin and rifabutin
- HIV treatment, such as ritonavir and efavirenz
- griseofulvin, an antifungal medication
- St John’s wort, a herbal remedy used to treat low moods
Speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking the morning after pill if you take other medications. Your doctor may suggest a different form of emergency contraception such as the copper intrauterine device (IUD).
The morning after pill does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
How long after sex can you take the morning after pill?
You can take EllaOne up to 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex.
Levonelle or generic Levonelle can be taken up to 72 hours (3 days) after having unprotected sex.
The morning after pill will be less effective if you delay taking it. It’s better to take the pill as soon as possible, preferably within the first 24 hours.
How to take the morning after pill
To take the morning after pill, swallow the pill with water as soon as possible after having unprotected sex.
The morning after pill can be taken at any time of the day, with or without food.
You can take the morning after pill at any point in your menstrual cycle. Keep in mind that the morning after pill will not be effective at preventing pregnancy if you take it after ovulation.
How often can you take the morning after pill?
You should only take the morning after pill if you’re at risk of getting pregnant after unprotected sex. The morning after pill should not be used as a regular method of contraception.
You can take the morning after pill more than once in your menstrual cycle, but it can cause irregular periods and may make you feel unwell. It’s difficult to tell if you have already ovulated, or when you will ovulate, during your menstrual cycle. So using a regular form of contraception, such as the birth control pill or a copper IUD, can help protect you from unwanted pregnancy. This is much more reliable than depending on using emergency contraception.
Side effects of the morning after pill
You may get some side effects after taking the morning after pill. These will not last very long and should disappear after a few hours.
The common side effects of the morning after pill include:
- feeling sick or being sick
- irregular bleeding from the vagina
- breast tenderness
- abdominal pain
- mood changes
- pelvic pain
Other types of emergency contraception
The copper intrauterine device is another type of emergency contraception, also called an IUD. A copper IUD is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. It is the most effective form of emergency contraception.
The copper IUD is a non hormonal method of emergency contraception. Copper is released from the device into your uterus and stops sperm from travelling into your womb. The copper can also stop a fertilised egg from implanting into your womb lining.
The copper IUD is a small device that is fitted into your uterus (womb). A trained doctor or nurse will fit the copper IUD. The copper IUD should be fitted within 5 days of having unprotected sex.
The copper IUD can be removed after you are certain you are not pregnant. You can also keep the copper IUD as a form of regular contraception. The copper IUD can be left in your womb for 5 to 10 years, depending on the type of device fitted.
What if I throw up after taking the morning after pill?
If you throw up within 3 hours after taking the morning after pill, speak to your pharmacist or sexual health clinic. You’ll need to take another morning after pill as soon as possible as the medication will not have been absorbed and will not be effective at preventing pregnancy.
Can I get pregnant after taking the morning after pill?
There is a very small chance (less than 5%) that you can get pregnant after taking the morning after pill. No contraceptive method is 100% effective, which means there’s always a risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex.
If you have unprotected sex after taking the morning after pill, you can still get pregnant. You’ll need to take another morning after pill for this second instance of unprotected sex.
The morning after pill does not make you infertile. If you want to try for a baby after taking the morning after pill, wait until after your next period. This is when you will next ovulate (release an egg).
Can I take my normal contraceptive pill at the same time?
You can still take your normal contraceptive pill at the same time after you’ve had the morning after pill, depending on the pill you take. Always ask a healthcare professional for advice and read the patient information leaflet that comes in your pack of pills.
With some contraceptive pills, if you take EllaOne you’ll need to use condoms in addition to your normal contraceptive pill for a few days. This is because EllaOne can make normal contraceptive pills temporarily less effective.
Can I buy the morning after pill online?
You can buy the morning after pill from online pharmacies. Make sure any online pharmacy you buy from is registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). The GPhC regulates all pharmacies, including online pharmacies. There will be a logo on the website which links to their GPhC registration number.
You can request the morning after pill from ZAVA. All our services are registered with both the GPhC and the General Medical Council (GMC) for doctors. We can deliver the morning after pill to your doorstep in discreet packaging, or you can collect it from your local Post Office.
Can I get the morning after pill for free?
You can get the morning after pill for free from certain NHS services. These include:
- sexual health clinics
- selected pharmacies
- NHS walk-in centres
If your doctor prescribes you the morning after pill, you will not need to pay for this prescription. All prescribed contraceptives are free on the NHS.
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Expansion
Babak studied medicine at King’s College London and graduated in 2003, having also gained a bachelor’s degree in Physiology during his time there. He completed his general practice (GP) training in East London, where he worked for a number of years as a partner at a large inner-city GP practice. He completed the Royal College of GPs membership exam in 2007.Meet our doctors
Last reviewed: 23 May 2022
Emergency contraception (NHS) [Feb 2018] [accessed April 2022]
Levonorgestrel 1.5mg tablet (PIL) [Dec 2021] [accessed April 2022]
Levonelle 1500 micrograms tablet (PIL) [Jan 2020] [accessed April 2022]
EllaOne 30mg (PIL) [Jun 2021] [accessed April 2022]
Copper intrauterine device (Oxford Sexual Health) [April 2019] [accessed April 2022]