Morning-After Pill & Emergency Contraception – What is it?

Life is life, and some situations seem extreme and require quick and responsible decisions. In case it is related to prevention of the unwanted pregnancy, the morning-after pill is the help. using contraceptive pills which should be accepted after sexual intercourse. Pills that prevent unwanted pregnancy after unprotected intercourse, belong to the group of emergency contraception methods.

What is a Morning-After Pill?

Emergency contraception (morning-after pill or immediate contraception) is a way of preventing unwanted pregnancy in case of unprotected intercourse or ineffective application of the other methods of contraception (breaking or slipping off a condom, skipped birth control pill, the error of the calendar method, etc…). The essence of emergency contraception involves taking the specially developed medicines, within a certain time (not later than 72 hours after unprotected intercourse happened), or installing an intrauterine device (IUD) no later than 120 hours after the unprotected intercourse. According to WHO recommendations, emergency contraception must not be a regular method of contraception.

In certain situations, emergency contraception is the only way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and further abortion.

This article describes methods of emergency contraception that are currently in use.

It is hard to call the morning-after pill or emergency contraception real contraception, in the true value of this concept. The creation of morning-after pills has enabled the protection against pregnancy in violation of the condom integrity, in case of the diaphragm or cervical cap displacement during sexual intercourse, the expulsion of an intrauterine spiral (IUD), missed contraceptive pill, and in case of rape.

All modern methods of birth control are designed to prevent conception and occurrence of undesirable pregnancy – means not letting the sperm fertilize an egg. The essence of emergency contraception as such is quite different: not letting a fertilized ovum attach to the uterine wall and continue its development. However, you may never know if the egg was fertilized.

The use of a hormonal morning-after pill is recommended for women who live irregular sexual life. There are several ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the absence of means of protection before or during intimacy:

  1. Contraceptive pill after sexual intercourse or a pill of the next day
  2. Installation of an intrauterine device in 120 hours after sexual contact
  3. Combined oral contraceptives containing estrogen and progestogen (COC)

Cases to Use Emergency Contraception Means

  1. The main methods of contraception were not applied on the whole
  2. In the case of rape if the woman was not protected by a reliable means of contraception
  3. In case sexual intercourse took place in the fertile days of the cycle
  4. The contraceptive method hasn’t worked or was applied incorrectly
  5. The breaking, sliding or the wrong application of a condom took place
  6. In case you have skipped two consecutive or more birth control pills
  7. The unsuccessfully applied withdrawal method during sexual intercourse
  8. The shot of a medroxyprogesterone was taken with a delay of more than two weeks
  9. Slip, rupture, premature removal of the cap, diaphragm or vaginal contraceptive ring
  10. Incomplete dissolution of a spermicide pill before the beginning of sexual intercourse

Who may take:

  1. Adolescence: from menarche to 20 years
  2. Early Reproductive: from 18 to 35 years
  3. Late Reproductive: from 36 to 45 years
  4. Premenopausal: since the appearance of the first signs of menopause until one year after the last menstrual period

How Does Morning-After Pill Work?


Most of the morning-after pills, such as Ella, After a, After pill, Plan B One-step, have the same principle of work. The drug for emergency contraception prevents the mature egg from reaching the uterine cavity during ovulation or postpones the ovulation. At the same time, it may also prevent a fertilized egg to attach to the uterine wall (implantation).

How to take a Morning-After Pill

You should carefully study the instructions of the pill you are going to use or consult your specialist. Normally you have to take the first pill of the package (in case there are two) within 48 hours after the unprotected sexual intercourse. In 12 hours it is necessary to take the second pill (all in all 2 pills should be taken). But it is necessary to remember that at a large number of sexual intercourses the efficiency of pills decreases! In case you have regular sex, you should use other contraceptive pills, for example, combined ones.

Possible Side Effects of the Morning-After Pill

The pill should not be taken often: to minimize the side effects and get maximum efficiency do not take the morning-after pill more often than once a month. The most common side effects are bleeding and nausea, menstrual cycle distortion, menstruation delay, or irregularity. In case you have excessive bleeding, consult a doctor!

In some cases, the periods miss for a month or even more. It may not always be the side effect of the pill, but the effect of the pregnancy, since the method does not give 100% protection. If missing periods, take a home pregnancy test to be sure.

Other noted side effects of emergency contraception:

  1. Vomit
  2. Headache
  3. Pain in mammary glands
  4. Pain in the abdomen
  5. Various disorders of the menstrual cycle
  6. Thrombosis

Frequency of the side effects:

  • From the side of gastrointestinal tract: very often — nausea; often — vomiting
  • From the side of the Central nervous system: very often — fatigue; often — headache, dizziness
  • From the side of reproductive system: very often — pains in the bottom of a stomach, acyclic bloody allocations (bleedings); often — morbidity of mammary glands, menstruation cycles delay (no more than 5-7 days)

Still, at the appearance of any of the mentioned above side effects, you should consult the doctor as soon as possible!


Before using a pill, you should carefully read the instruction of the drug.

Other Means of the Emergency Contraception

Intrauterine Device

An intrauterine device (IUD) may be installed within the first 5 days after the unprotected sexual intercourse. The device should be set by a gynecologist only and after the examination and taking of a smear and other tests.


It is dangerous to enter an IUD after rape as it increases the risk of STIs’ (STDs) transmitting to the upper level of the genitals and reproductive organs. This procedure facilitates a way of infection to the top genital tract.

Precautionary Measures

The morning-after pill is declared as a safe and quite secure way to prevent the occurrence of an unplanned pregnancy. But you should still remember, that it is a hormonal drug and the destabilization of your hormones may play unexpected tricks on your health. In case you are going to use a morning-after pill, you should consult your doctor, who knows the peculiarities of your health and may advise better. Unfortunately, many people reach for the drugstore quicker than for the office of the doctor. But one must realize that it is a strong drug and the violation of the instructions may cause severe uterine bleeding. In case there’s no option to see a doctor, make sure the unprotected intercourse happened in the days of the ovulation and you need a morning-after pill.

In case you have used the means of emergency contraception independently, you still need to visit the gynecologist afterward! The other unpleasant of unprotected sexual intercourse is the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In this case, the doctor may help, but not the morning-after pill. It is always better to be 100% confident in preventing the development of disease at the initial stage.

For the next several months the gynecologist will also track your menstrual cycle. It may be necessary to take hormonal pills stimulating the function of the ovaries.

In case you still want to use the morning-after pill independently, at least look through the feedbacks of the users of the drug you are going to take. Make sure the reviews are good and study the side effects that other women have observed.

Consequences of Taking a Birth Control Pill

  1. The next periods may start sooner or later, than expected
  2. Menstrual bleeding may be excessive and painful. In this case it is necessary to see a doctor
  3. Pregnancy may still occur as the method doesn’t give a 100% guarantee. if in three weeks after taking emergency contraception pill the menstruation hasn’t started or pregnancy signs have appeared – take a pregnancy test and see the gynecologist
  4. Pains in the abdomen may occur: in this case you should see the gynecologist immediately;
  5. You should switch to barrier methods of birth control (condoms until the next periods)


  1. Cases of the uterine bleeding in the past
  2. Severe chronical diseases
  3. Severe liver diseases, pathology of the liver, biliary tract, and liver failure
  4. Bad headache (migraine)
  5. Teenagers (16 years and less) who’s’ menstrual cycles wasn’t established yet
  6. Age over 45 years (it’s not prohibited, but not recommended)
  7. In case of the confirmed pregnancy (when an ovum has already implanted (attached to the uterine wall), and it is impossible to expel it from a uterus)
  8. In the case of lactose intolerance and/or impaired absorption of glucose and galactose (components of the most pills)
  9. Unstable menstrual cycle or the cycles with irregularities (bleeding between periods, pain or mobility)
  10. Violation of coagulability of blood or recent anticoagulation therapy
  11. While breastfeeding (you shouldn’t breastfeed (or give your milk) within 24 hours after taking the morning-after pill)
  12. Chain smoking women

The described above means of emergency contraception are not recommended for young nulliparous women, as well as for women with a large number of sexual contacts and partners, during casual sex. Take care of your health and good luck!