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'Morning after' pill (emergency contraception pill)

5-minute read

What is the morning after pill?

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.

The emergency contraception 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 3 or up to 5 days after sex, depending on the type of pill.

It used to be called the morning after pill, but it can be taken up to 3 or up to 5 days after sex, depending on the type of pill. However, the sooner it is taken after unprotected sex, the more effective it is.

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 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 doctor
  • sexual health clinics
  • community health centres
  • family planning centres

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

LNG-ECP is a single-dose levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive pill that can be used up to 3 days (72 hours) after unprotected sex. It is available from pharmacies without a prescription. It comes with different brand names.

You should not take the LNG-ECP if you are pregnant, had unprotected intercourse more than 72 hours earlier in the same menstrual cycles, have vaginal bleeding and don’t know why, have breast cancer, or are allergic to any of the ingredients.

Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are pregnant, taking any other medications, have high blood pressure or if you have diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, severe liver disease or have had a stroke. You should go back to see your doctor 3 weeks after you take the pill, especially if you haven’t had a period by then.

UPA

UPA is a single dose of ulipristal acetate that can be used up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. It is available from pharmacies or your doctor without a prescription. Its brand name is EllaOne.

You should not take UPA if you think you may be pregnant or if you are allergic to ulipristal acetate or any of its other ingredients. Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have severe asthma or liver disease, if you are breastfeeding, or if you are taking any other medications as they may make the pill less effective.

If you can't take either of these pills, there is an alternative. You can have a copper intrauterine device (IUD) inserted by a trained doctor or nurse within 5 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.

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

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2021


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