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How Does the Morning-After Pill Work

DrSugar Explains: The Morning-After Pill

DrSugar is in the house! This week she's discussing emergency contraception and the morning-after pill.

Here at FitSugar we receive a large volume of questions pertaining to pregnancy and contraception. This week, we're beginning an ongoing series on topics pertaining to women's health and gynecological issues starting with the morning-after pill — including how it works and why and when it can be used. To learn if you're a candidate for this form of contraception, keep on reading.

The morning-after pill is a form of emergency contraception and is considered to be a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. According to Planned Parenthood, the "morning-after pill" is actually a misnomer and should be called emergency contraception. This is because you can use emergency contraception for up to five days after unprotected intercourse, not just the "morning" after.


Why might you be thinking you need emergency contraception? You may want to use it if: the condom broke or slipped off; you forgot to take your birth control pills, insert your birth control ring, or put on your birth control patch; your diaphragm slipped out of place; you miscalculated your "safe days"; he didn't pull out in time; you weren't using any form of birth control; or you were forced to have unprotected intercourse.

Emergency contraception is made of one of the hormones used in birth control pills — progestin. This hormone works by keeping a woman's ovaries from releasing eggs. Pregnancy cannot happen if no egg is released to join with sperm. The hormone also works by thickening the mucus on the cervix to make it more difficult for the sperm to join an egg. Finally, the hormone works to thin the lining of the uterus, which, in theory, could prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

According to the Mayo Clinic, emergency contraception is an effective option for preventing pregnancy, however, it isn't as effective as other methods of contraception and isn't recommended for routine use. An estimated one to two out of 100 women will get pregnant despite correctly using emergency contraception after having unprotected sex. Planned Parenthood reports that the sooner emergency contraceptives are started, the better they work and that their effectiveness is reduced the longer one waits after unprotected sex to take the pills. Additionally, emergency contraception does not prevent pregnancy for any unprotected intercourse you may have after taking the pills and does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

Emergency contraception is considered to be safe, however, it can give you some side effects. These include nausea and vomiting, breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches. According to the Mayo Clinic, these side effects generally last only a couple days. They also report that emergency contraceptives can cause your period to be delayed by about one week and recommend taking a pregnancy test if your period is more than one week late.

If you are 17 years or older, most emergency contraceptives are available over the counter. Certain emergency contraceptives or being 16 years of age or younger require a prescription from a health-care provider. And remember, the best way to prevent pregnancies is abstinence, however, if you are sexually active and do not desire pregnancy, using a regular form of contraception and being prepared are the best things you can do to avoid getting pregnant!

Have a question for DrSugar? You can send it to me via private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

Join The Conversation
insidiousmiss insidiousmiss 6 years
A young woman once told me she was on the pill, but she still got pregnant. I don't know if she was telling the truth. Can that really happen??
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