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'Morning after' pill (emergency contraception pill)

4-minute read

The 'morning after' pill is a type of emergency contraception that can be used within a few days of unprotected sex. It is usually effective, but not always. It shouldn’t be used as regular contraception.

What is the morning after pill?

The morning after pill is taken soon after sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy.

The name is misleading - the morning after pill can be taken up to three or up to five days after sex, depending on the type of pill.

When can I use the morning after pill?

You might use the morning after pill if:

  • you had unprotected sex
  • you missed one or more of your usual contraceptive pills
  • you have been vomiting, had diarrhoea or have taken antibiotics, which can all stop your usual contraceptive pills from working
  • the condom broke during sex
  • you were sexually assaulted.

Where do I go for the morning after pill?

You can get emergency contraception without a prescription from:

  • a pharmacy
  • your GP
  • sexual health clinics
  • family planning centres
  • hospital emergency departments (as an absolutely last resort).

What are the different types of morning after pill? Is there an alternative?

Two types of emergency contraception pill are available in Australia.

  • LNG-ECP is a single-dose levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive pill that can be used up to three days (72 hours) after unprotected sex. It is available from pharmacies without a prescription.
  • UPA is a single dose of ulipristal acetate that can be used up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. You'll need a prescription from your doctor for UPA.

If you can't take either of these pills, there is an alternative. You can have a copper intrauterine device (IUD) inserted within five days of unprotected sex. An IUD is also an effective form of long-term contraception.

How effective is the morning after pill?

Emergency contraception can't prevent all pregnancies.

If you take the LNG-ECP pill within 3 days of having sex, it will probably be effective. Out of every 100 expected pregnancies, between 80 or 90 will be avoided with this pill. The sooner you take it, the better the chance of it working.

If you take the UPA pill within 5 days of having sex, it is very likely to be effective. Out of every 100 expected pregnancies, 98 will be avoided with this pill. Again, the sooner you take it, the better the chance of it working.

Is the morning after pill safe?

Both LNG-ECP and UPA pills are considered safe with no serious or long-term complications. But many women notice problems soon after taking either pill. These include:

Taking a morning after pill might mess up the timing of your periods, but it is unpredictable. Your next period might be early, on time or late.

When you see a pharmacist or doctor to get the morning after pill, you might be asked about whether or not you are breastfeeding, any medical conditions you might have, any medications you take and any allergies you might have. Answers to these questions can influence the advice your pharmacist or doctor will give.

How does the morning after pill work?

The morning after pill works by stopping or delaying your ovary releasing an egg. It might also stop the sperm from reaching an egg that has already been released.

If the sperm has already fertilised the egg, it is too late and the pill won't work.

The morning after pill is for emergency contraception only. It doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

When can you take the morning after pill?

Both types of pill should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. The LNG-ECP is most effective when taken within three days of unprotected sex. The UPA pill is effective up to five days after unprotected sex.

Do I need follow-up after taking the morning after pill?

Yes. If you have taken the morning after pill, it's a good idea to make an appointment to talk to your doctor, or to go to a sexual health or family planning clinic.

They can help with:

  • your contraception needs immediately after taking the morning after pill
  • a pregnancy test to check that the morning after pill was effective
  • a screening test for STIs
  • longer term contraception.

Last reviewed: February 2017

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