Emergency contraception (EC) or post-coital contraception refers to birth control methods that can be used in the first few days after unprotected intercourse to prevent unwanted pregnancy. ECs are used for emergency purposes only following unprotected sex, contraceptive failure (e.g. broken condom) or misuse (forgetting to take birth control pills, rape or coerced sex. Note that regular birth control methods are the best way to prevent pregnancy. However with the rise in unplanned pregnancies and abortions, awareness of emergency birth control has become necessary. There are many loop holes in EC awareness. The following explanations will help fill these loops.
ECs are also called the morning-after pills
There are 2 types of EC – Emergency contraception pills (ECPs) and IUDS. Most ECs are available without prescription for women 17 years and older in US. They are kept behind the counter. All you need to do is ask a pharmacist for the pill and show a valid ID for proof of age. Women 17 years and under need a prescription for it.
Plan B One- Step (1 tablet containing 1.5mg of levonorgestrel) and next choice (2 tablets each containing 0.75 mg of levonorgestrel taken at a 12 hour interval) are all available without prescription for women 17 years and older.
Ella is available only as prescription regardless of your age.
Copper bearing intrauterine devices (IUDs) are also effective ways of emergency contraceptives and even ideal as a long-term birth control method.
ECs are effective if used up to 120 hours or five days after unprotected sex. The sooner you use them the better as their effectiveness reduce with time during the 5 day period. ECs are very effective if used up to 24 hours after unprotected sex.
Do not use ECs the first three weeks after childbirth as it is not possible to get pregnant around this time.
IUDs are not recommended the first 28 days after childbirth. If you need to use ECs after the first 3 weeks of childbirth take the pills.
emergency contraceptives should not be confused with the abortion pill mifepristone (RU-486) . It does not cause abortion but reduces the need for an abortion. They work before pregnancy occur. ECs prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex by delaying ovulation or preventing implantation. Mifepristone on the other hand is a progesterone blocker and terminates a pregnancy that has already been implanted.
ECs have side effects like nausea, vomiting, stomach pains and cramping, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and tender breast.
Nausea can be reduced by taking an anti nausea medication (Dramamine II or Bonine) an hour before taking emergency contraception.
emergency contraceptive pills may affect your menstrual cycle – it may come early or be delayed, heavy or light.
ECs does not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS AND Syphilis.
emergency contraceptive should not be used as regular form of birth control. They are ONLY for emergency cases.
Women with clotting disorders, deep vein thrombosis or liver disease should not use Plan B.
If you vomit three hours of taking the Ella or two hours after taking plan B, you will need another pill or have an IUD fitted. Talk to your doctor or visit your family planning clinic.
It is generally safe to take emergency contraception pills when breastfeeding, however talk to your doctor first. Note that the safety of Ella during breastfeeding has not yet been established.
Emergency contraceptive pills may react with:
- some medicines used to treat epilepsy, HIV and tuberculosis
- the complimentary medicine St John’s Wort
These medicines may reduce their effectiveness and hence the dosage of the EC pills may be increased. Ella on the other hand should not be used if on any on these medications because it will NOT be effective.
Emergency IUDs are more effective in preventing pregnancy than emergency contraceptive pills as there are no medical interactions.
Emergency contraceptivepills do not interact with most antibiotics. It is worth mentioning that the antibiotic rifampin decreases the effectiveness of birth control in preventing ovulation.
It is okay to take emergency contraceptive pills if you are already taking oral contraceptive pills as a regular form of birth control.
Let’s all help to reduce the rise in abortions and unplanned pregnancies by using some form of regular birth control or resorting to ECs in case of an emergency like failed or misuse birth control or rape.