The morning after pill is a form of emergency contraception which can be used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy after unprotected sex. It is currently only available to individuals with female reproductive organs and works by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovary (a process known as ovulation) so that it cannot be fertilised by sperm.
You should get the morning after pill if you have engaged in unprotected sex, or if an alternative method of contraception has failed to work. Examples of this include a condom splitting or missing a contraceptive pill.
It is also possible to get the morning after pill in advance of having unprotected sex if you’re going on holiday, are worried about your contraceptive method failing or live in an area where emergency contraception is hard to come by. To discuss options such as this you should visit your GP.
You can get the Morning After Pill from a variety of places, most of which will dispense the pill free of charge and without a prescription. These places include:
You can also buy the emergency contraceptive pill if you’re aged 16 of over from various pharmacies (in person and online) and organisations such as The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
It is also possible to buy the morning after pill online from a registered online pharmacy, such as Prescription Doctor. When buying any medicine online, always make sure you are buying medicine from a reputable online pharmacy. Look for the badge which shows the online supplier is registered with the MHRA, in the UK.
The cost of the morning after pill will vary between different online services, and next-day discreet delivery may be available on certain sites.
When you go to get emergency contraception, you will be asked some questions including:
This is to check what method of emergency contraception is the most suitable.
There are two types of morning after pill available in the UK: Levonelle and ellaOne.
Levonelle contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic version of the natural hormone progesterone produced by the ovaries.
ellaOne contains ulipristal acetate, which stops progesterone working normally.
Both medicines work by stopping or delaying the release of an egg during ovulation. The times at which these pills need to be taken vary, with Levonelle needing to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex and ellaOne at 120 hours (or 5 days). In both instances, the sooner the pill is taken, the more effective it is.
A study conducted in 2010 found that of 1,714 women who received ulipristal acetate as a form of emergency contraception there was a 98.7% success rate, and a 97.8% success rate for those who received levonorgestrel.
Although it is the preferred method of emergency contraception for many women, there are potential mild side effects linked to the morning after pill. These include:
While causing discomfort, there are no serious or long-term side effects to using the emergency contraceptive pill. However, doctors strongly discourage individuals to use this as their main method of contraception due to its short-term viability and the fact that it has to be administered after unprotected sex.
If you are concerned about any of the side effects associated with the morning after pill, speak to your doctor.
Alongside the Morning After Pill there are two alternative methods of emergency contraception: The Copper Intrauterine Device and the Hormonal Intrauterine Device (both referred to as a form of IUD).
These devices need to be fitted within 5 days after unprotected sex or 5 days after your latest ovulation to be effective.
Although a more invasive method of emergency contraception, the IUD is the most effective method for preventing an unwanted pregnancy with less than 1% of women becoming pregnant after the fitting. IUD’s work by limiting the movement of sperm so that it becomes unlikely to meet and fertilise the egg. Once fitted, the IUD can be used as a permanent method of contraception lasting for up to 10 years.
The morning after pill does not replace a regular form of contraception, such as condoms or the combined contraceptive pill. You should only use the morning after pill in emergency situations, such as a failed form of contraception or when you do not have immediate access to other contraceptives.
There are many different forms of contraceptive available and it's important to find the right one for you. Your doctor will be able to offer advice on which contraceptive you should choose.
Finally, while the morning after pill is effective at preventing pregnancy, it does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea. Condoms are the only form of contraception which can effectively prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
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