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Morning after pill: how it works, how to take it and common doubts

The morning-after pill is an emergency contraceptive method, used only when the usual contraceptive method fails or is missed. It may be made up of levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate, which works by delaying or inhibiting ovulation.

Pills that contain Levonorgestrel may be used within 3 days after intimate contact and pills containing ulipristal acetate may be used up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse. However, their efficacy decreases as days go by and so they should be taken as soon as possible. They can be purchased at pharmacies and the price can vary between $15-$45 in the U.S and about 15,99 pounds in the UK, depending on the active substance used.

Morning after pill: how it works, how to take it and common doubts

How it works

The morning-after pill works by inhibiting or delaying ovulation, making it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus and possibly for oocyte maturation. In addition, it can change the hormonal levels after ovulation, but it is possible that it also acts in other ways.

Emergency oral contraception has no effect after implantation has been completed, and does not interrupt an ongoing pregnancy.

When and how to take it

The morning-after pill should be used in emergencies whenever there is a risk of an unwanted pregnancy and can be taken in situations such as:

  • Sexual intercourse without a condom or condom rupture;
  • Forgetting to take the regular contraceptive pill, especially if you forgot more than once in the same package. Check also, what cautions you should follow after forgetting to take the birth control pill;
  • Expulsion of the IUD;
  • Displacement or removal of the vaginal diaphragm prematurely;
  • Cases of sexual violence.

In order for pregnancy to be avoided, the next day's pill should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected intimate contact or failure in taking your regular contraceptive method.

This pill can be taken on any day of the menstrual cycle, and can be taken with water or food. Each carton contains only 1 or 2 single-shot tablets.

Morning after pill: how it works, how to take it and common doubts

Possible side effects

After taking the morning after pill, you may feel a headache, feel sick and tired and after a few days you may also notice symptoms such as:

  • Breast pain;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Small vaginal bleeding;
  • Anticipation or delay of menstruation.

These symptoms are related to the side effects of the medication and it is normal for menstruation to become irregular for some time. Ideally you should observe these changes and if possible note the characteristics of your period in the calendar or on your cell phone, so that you can show the gynecologist in your appointment. Find out more about the possible side effects of the morning after pill.

9 Common doubts about the morning after pill

There are many doubts that can appear about the morning after pill. The most common are:

1. Can I get pregnant even if I take the morning after pill?

Although indicated to prevent unwanted pregnancy, the morning-after pill is not 100% effective if taken after 72 hours of unprotected intercourse. But when it is taken on the same day, it is unlikely that the woman will become pregnant, however, there is always that possibility.

The most sensible thing to do is wait a few days until the onset of your period, and in case of delay you can do a pregnancy test that you buy at the pharmacy. Here are your chances of being pregnant by responding to this online test:

Find out if you are pregnant

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In the last month, have you had sexual intercourse without using a condom or other contraceptive method such as an IUD, implant,
  • Yes
  • No
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Have you noticed any pink vaginal discharge lately?
  • Yes
  • No
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Are you getting nauseous and want to vomit in the morning?
  • Yes
  • No
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Are you more sensitive to smells, being annoyed by smells like cigarettes, food or perfume?
  • Yes
  • No
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Does your belly look more swollen than before, making it harder to keep your jeans tight during the day?
  • Yes
  • No
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Does your skin look more oily and prone to acne?
  • Yes
  • No
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Are you feeling more tired and sleepy?
  • Yes
  • No
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Has your period been delayed for more than 5 days?
  • Yes
  • No
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Have you ever had a pharmacy pregnancy test or blood test in the last month, with a positive result?
  • Yes
  • No
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Did you take the morning-after pill recently?
  • Yes
  • No

2. Does the morning after pill delay your period?

One of the side effects of the morning after pill is the changes it has in your period. So after taking the pills, menstruation can occur up to 10 days before or after the expected date, but in most cases, menstruation occurs on the expected date with a change of about 3 days or more. However, if the delay persists, you should take a pregnancy test.

3. Is the morning after pill abortive? How does it work?

The morning after pill is not abortive because it may work in different ways, depending on the stage of the menstrual cycle in which it is used, and may:

  • Inhibit or delay ovulation, which avoids the fertilization of the ovum by the spermatozoid;
  • Increase the viscosity of the vaginal mucus, making it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg.

If ovulation has already occurred or if the ovum has already been fertilized, the pill does not prevent the development of the pregnancy.

4. How many times can it be used?

This pill should only be used sporadically because it has a very high hormonal dose. Also, if the woman takes the morning after pill more than once a month, it may lose its effect. Therefore, this medicine is only indicated for emergency situations and not as a frequent contraceptive method. 

5. Can the morning after pill cause harm?

This pill is only bad if it is used more than 2 times in the same month, which increases the risk of diseases such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, problems in a future pregnancy, and may also increase the risk of thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, for example.

6. Does the morning after pill cause infertility?

There is no scientific evidence that sporadic use of this pill can cause infertility, malformation of the fetus or ectopic pregnancy.

7. Does the morning after pill alter the functioning of your regular birth control pill

No, so the contraceptive pill should continue to be taken regularly, at regular times, until the end of the package. After the end of the package, you should wait for your period to appear and in case it doesn't appear, you should consult your gynecologist.

8. Does the morning after pill work in your fertile days?

Your fertile days is the time of your menstrual cycle in which there is a greater probability of fertilization. This period begins about 72 hours before ovulation, which is the average life span of a sperm, and ends about 24 hours later, which is the average life time of an ovum.

9. Does the morning after pill work if you have unprotected intercourse after taking it?

No. The morning after pill is not a contraceptive method and should only be taken in emergency situations. If the person has already taken the morning after pill as an emergency contraceptive and has unprotected sex the day after the pill, there is a risk of becoming pregnant.

Ideally, the woman should talk to her gynecologist and start taking a contraceptive pill.

The morning after pill is only effective if ovulation has not yet occurred during the first few days of the fertile period. If fertilization has already occurred, if there is intimate contact, a pregnancy is very likely to occur.

Brand names of the morning after pill

The morning after pill can be bought at pharmacies and also on the internet, without a prescription being required. Some trade names are Plan B One-Step, Take action and Levonelle. The pill that can be used up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse is Ellaone.

However, although it may be bought without a prescription, this medicine should only be used under medical advice.

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