Morning-after pills are pregnancy preventative pills that are taken after unprotected sexual intercourse or a failed contraceptive method.
Contrary to its name, most morning-after pills, depending on the brand, can be taken up to five days after sexual intercourse, and actually consist of two or more pills. One must be taken as soon as possible, and the other usually 12 hours later. It is best to take the first dose as soon as possible after sexual intercourse for the highest chance of preventing pregnancy. The longer you wait, the lower the chance of the pills being effective. However, the morning-after pill is not as effective as a birth control method used before or during sexual intercourse (i.e. birth control pills or condoms) and does not prevent you from contracting a sexual transmitted disease (STD).
How It Works
There are two types of morning-after pills, one that contains a hormone called progestin and another that contains both progestin and estrogen. Those that contain only progestin reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89%, while the progestin and estrogen combination pills reduce the risk by 79%. The morning-after pill can prevent or delay ovulation and may interfere with fertilization and implantation. However, most morning-after pills will not work if you have unprotected sex after taking the pills in the same menstrual cycle, if you had unprotected sex earlier in your cycle and did not take a morning-after pill, or you vomit within one hour of taking a dose. The morning-after pill does not work if you are already pregnant.
The morning-after pill is safe and there are no serious or long-term side effects. However, temporary side effects are common. The following side effects are likely: stomachache, headache, tiredness, dizziness, lower abdominal pain and cramping, and breast tenderness. You may also experience a little bleeding or receive your menstrual cycle early or late. Those morning-after pills that contain both progestin and estrogen have a higher likelihood of causing side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. If you experience any severe abdominal pain, it is important that you speak to your health-care provider and/or seek medical attention. Severe abdominal pain may be due to an ectopic pregnancy.
Where to Get It
For women 18 years old and older, the morning-after pill can be purchased without a prescription from your pharmacist. However, not all pharmacies carry the morning-after pill, so it is recommended that you call ahead of time to make sure they sell it. You can also get it from your local Planned Parenthood or county health department. For those women under the age of 18, a prescription is required to purchase the morning-after pill. The cost can range from $10 to $70, depending on the brand and where it is purchased.
After taking the morning-after pill, the only sure way to know that it was effective is to wait until you get your next menstrual period. However, your menstrual cycle may come a week early or a week late. If your menstrual cycle does not arrive seven days or longer after its expected arrival, it is recommended that you take a pregnancy test.