As healthcare providers, we are often being approached by women asking tons of questions surrounding emergency pills, or in the lay-man term, the “morning-after pill”.
It’s understandable that while most of them worry about the efficacy or safety of consuming these so-called “magic pill”, it’s also wise for women to know a thing or two about it.
Being educated about it, helps you save all the unnecessary anxiety and uncertainties, in case you decided to pop a pill (or more) in the future.
So today, I will be discussing some of the popular questions women asked.
Now let’s get to it, shall we?
Emergency Pill comes in different names, some might be familiar with calling it “the morning-after pill” and some even used branding names as a reference to it, for example, Plan B, One-Step, Next-Choice, Eschapelle, etc.).
But to avoid any confusion, let’s just call it the morning-after pill.
Simply put, this pill (which contains Levonorgestrel Hormone) is a form of emergency contraception that can prevent pregnancy when taken after having unprotected sex.
Although it can be easily bought over-the-counter without a prescription, it’s not to be used as a routine method of birth control.
Depending upon where you are in your cycle, the morning-after pill may work in one of these ways:
It may prevent or delay ovulation,
It may interfere with fertilization or an egg or
It can also prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus by altering its lining.
Point to note: The morning-after pill is not the same as the abortion pill. If the fertilized egg has been implanted in the uterus or if you are already pregnant when you take it, this pill will not stop the development of the fetus.
How Can You Take It To Get The Highest Efficacy?
Although the name (morning-after) might be a little indicative of when you should consume it, you actually don’t have to wait until the morning after sex to take it.
In fact, it is most effective the sooner you take it. So if you take it within 72 hours after you’ve had unprotected sex, the morning-after pill can reduce the risk of pregnancy by up to 89%.
That’s a solid suggestion, but more recent research found that ir might just be as effective on days one through four.
“ And depending on where you are in your cycle, it’s possible that it might still be effective on day five.” -Dr. Alyssa Dweck, certified OB-GYN
You can take morning-after pill if:
You don’t use any birth control
The condom came off or broke
The diaphragm slipped out of place
You missed at least 2 or 3 active birth control pills in a row
Your partner didn’t pull out in time
You have another reason to think your birth control might not have worked
You were forced to have sex
Point to note: Morning-after pill will not protect you from getting pregnant if you have sex after taking the pills.
Like any other medications, the morning-after pill does have it’s side effects, and one of the most common would be disruption of your menstrual cycle.
You might have some unexpected bleeding or spotting in between and it’s not a cause to worry.
And it’s also possible for the pill to cause your next period to either be heavier or lighter than usual.
But it should still come within a week or two of its normally scheduled arrival. If it takes longer than that, take a pregnancy test.
Some of the other potential side effects of the morning-after pill include:
How Often Can I Take Emergency Pill?
Since the morning-after pill is really meant for emergencies, you might be wondering if it’s harmful to take it too often.
Actually, the morning-after pill is even safer and more tolerable than taking a ton of birth control because it only contains levonorgestrel, whereas most birth control pills also have estrogen.
Obviously though, taking such a high dose of hormones could cause irregular bleeding and mess with your menstrual cycle - which isn’t ideal.
But so far, there’s no evidence that repeated use of the morning-after pill will cause permanent damage to your reproductive organs or cause infertility.
So it's best not to panic or stress if you've taken it many times or point to that as a cause of any fertility issues down the road.
Is Morning-After Pill The Safest and Most Effective Choice of Contraception?
“Unlike more reliable methods, the morning-after pill's effectiveness decreases the longer you wait to take it after unprotected sex” - Dr Lauren Streicher.
Compared with the efficacy of other birth control methods, this isn't really your best bet for pregnancy prevention. It isn't as effective as other methods of contraception and isn't recommended for routine use.
For instance, long-acting methods like the Cooper Intrauterine (IUD) and implant are both over 99% effective.
Combined birth control pills are also over 99% effective with perfect use or 91% effective with typical use.
“So if the morning-after pill is your primary birth control, you will really have a higher chance of getting pregnant,” says Dweck.
Point to note: The morning-after pill can fail even with correct use. And it offers no protection against Sexually Transmitted Infections eg. HIV, Gonorrhea, Herpes, Chlamydia etc.
"Even if taking emergency contraception frequently doesn't cause harm, it could still technically be harmful if it means you're having a lot of unprotected sex and exposing yourself to STIs," - Dr Alyssa Dweck
The morning-after pill is an amazing drug and it exists because there are situations where it is necessary or the right option for some women.
"But it still shouldn't be used on a regular basis, because we have so many reliable forms of birth control that cause fewer side effects, cost less, and that are more effective at preventing pregnancy," Dweck says.
Remember, the right birth control option will vary from person to person.
So it’s best to talk to your doctor about your unique lifestyle and contraceptive needs, and they'll help you find something that works for you.
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WebMD. (2019). An Overview of Plan B (the Morning-After Pill). [online] Available at: https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/plan-b#2 [Accessed 17 Apr. 2019].
Mayoclinic.org. (2019). Morning-after pill - Mayo Clinic. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/morning-after-pill/about/pac-20394730 [Accessed 17 Apr. 2019].
Kee, C. (2017). Here's What Happens If You Take The Morning-After Pill All The Time. [online] Buzzfeed.com. Available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/carolinekee/heres-what-happens-if-you-take-the-morning-after-pill-all-th?bfsource=relatedauto [Accessed 17 Apr. 2019].
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