The ‘Morning After Pill’ can refer to several different types of emergency contraception. They are used soon after unprotected sex to reduce your chances of pregnancy. The earlier you take the morning after pill, the more effective it will be. The morning after pill generally needs to be taken within the first 72 hours, but the IUD can be effective up to 120 hours after sex. 
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Effective up to 3 days after unprotected sex
Effective up to 5 days after unprotected sex
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Written by Dr Kimberly Langdon, MD
Information last reviewed 06/21/19
The morning after pill is a form of emergency contraception that is taken following unprotected sex to avoid pregnancy. Sex is considered unprotected if you do not use a contraceptive or if a contraceptive fails i.e. a condom breaks or slips or you miss a birth control pill etc.
Most varieties of the morning after pill contain synthetic hormones. These hormones help to prevent implantation of an egg cell after it is released during ovulation. They do this by making the lining of the uterus (womb) inhospitable to the fertilized egg, and also by interfering with how the fertilized egg cell moves down the fallopian tube (tube connecting the ovaries and uterus) so that the fertilised egg arrives too late or dies before it can implant itself. There is some limited evidence that suggests that the morning after pill may also inhibit ovulation, preventing fertilisation from occurring in the first place.
The Morning After Pill can be taken by women who are not pregnant, but who also wish to avoid pregnancy. Even women who cannot take oral contraceptive pills because of medical conditions like liver disease, smokers, high blood pressure, heart disease or women who are over 35 can take the morning after pill .
The morning after pill is 89-95% effective if taken within three days of unprotected sex. The earlier you take the morning after pill the more effective it will be.
The morning after pill should not be used as a method of regular contraception. The pills contain high levels of hormones and the long term effects of regular use has not yet been assessed.There is no formal limit on the amount of times you can take the morning after pill, but it is less reliable than other methods of contraception i.e. the contraceptive pill.
The morning after pill can alter your next period making it earlier, later, lighter or heavier than usual. This can also happen if you are pregnant, therefore it is recommended that you also take a pregnancy test 3 weeks after taking the pill. If your periods do not return to normal after the first month, you may wish to take another pregnancy test and speak to your doctor for advice.
If the morning after pill has failed, you may be pregnant. Early signs of pregnancy include:
To give the morning after pill the best chance of preventing pregnancy, you should take it as soon as possible after unprotected sex. It is a good idea to keep a morning after pill at home, so you can take it straight away if you need to.
You should also be aware of any medications that may interact with the morning after pill. If you are taking these, you should speak to your doctor about your options. Finally, you should also avoid doing anything that might exacerbate the side effects of the morning after pill, especially nausea. If you vomit within a 1-3 hours of taking the morning after pill, it may not have been properly absorbed. It is a good idea to avoid drinking alcohol, as this can increase nausea and make you more likely to vomit.
The morning after pill is more effective the sooner you take it after having unprotected sex. Most pills are only effective up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, but the IUD (copper coil or intrauterine device) can be fitted up to 120 hours after unprotected sex and is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. The IUD can be left in place for 5-10 years as a regular method of contraception to protect you from unwanted pregnancy.
Options for emergency contraception include:
Single progestin-only pill
Plan B-One Step,
95% within 24 hrs. 89% within 72 hrs
Up to 72 hrs
Available without prescription
Two progestin-only pills
2 x 0.75mg levonorgestrel
Take Action, My Way, After Pill
95% within 24 hrs. 85% within 25-48 hrs. 58% within 49-72 hrs
Can be taken together as a single dose or the first pill, followed by the second pill 12 hours later.
Estrogen & Progesterone pills
Ingredients vary depending upon brand. At least 100mcg estrogen and 0.5mg progesterone per dose.
All brands of combined oral contraceptive pill
Up to 94% effective if first dose taken within 120 hours More effective if taken earlier.
Up to 120 hours
Can be taken in multiple doses 12-24 hours apart
Selective progesterone receptor modulator
30mg ulipristal acetate
95% effective within 120 hours
Up to 120 hours 
Taken as a single dose. Not suitable for patients with severe kidney or liver disease . Limited knowledge of possible effects on pregnancy 
Please note: Emergency contraception is not effective if implantation has already occurred . If the method fails to prevent pregnancy, hormones in the emergency pills will not hurt the fetus or the ongoing pregnancy since the hormones will be long gone by the time the embryo develops a blood supply [4, 5].
Side effects of the morning after pill can include:
Most types of morning after pill do require a prescription, but Plan B-One Step is currently available without a prescription.
As with all medications, the morning after pill can cause side effects, however these are usually not dangerous and should not cause any serious health problems. If you are still concerned, you should speak to your doctor about alternatives.
The high dose of hormones in the morning after pill means that it can temporarily affect your period. Many women report that their periods come up to a week earlier or later than usual, or that the experience unexpected bleeding between periods. If you miss a period, it is a good idea to take a pregnancy test.
There is no evidence to suggest that using the morning after pill can increase your risk of ectopic pregnancy. Conversely, as the morning after pill reduces your overall risk of pregnancy, it also reduces your chances of having an ectopic pregnancy.
Some morning after pills, such as Plan B, are safe for use even if you are currently using another form of hormonal birth control, such as the pill. However, you should check with your doctor first if you are using any hormonal birth control.
The morning after pill is not recommended for use during pregnancy as there may be associated risks. However, the morning after pill is not an abortion pill and should not cause any harm to the fetus. If you take the morning after pill, but you still become pregnant, the pregnancy should not be harmed in anyway.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. You and your physician will determine if and how you should take any medication prescribed to you following a medical consultation.
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