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'Morning after' pill (emergency contraception pill)

6-minute read

Key facts

  • The ‘morning after’ pill reduces the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex.
  • The morning after pill works best if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex.
  • The morning after pill is not an abortion pill, and it does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
  • There are 2 types of morning after pill — the levonorgestrel (LNG) pill and the ulipristal acetate (UPA) pill.
  • The right pill for you depends on different things, such as how long ago you had sex.

What is the morning after pill

The ‘morning after’ pill is a type of emergency contraception. It is sometimes called ‘Plan B’.

Emergency contraception can be used to reduce the risk of pregnancy.

While it is called the morning after pill, some types can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex. Other types need to be taken sooner. It’s best to take it within 24 hours.

How does the morning after pill work?

The morning after pill stops or delays ovulation to prevent pregnancy. Ovulation is when your ovary releases an egg.

The morning after pill is for emergency contraception only.

It is not an abortion pill. If the sperm has already fertilised the egg, and the pregnancy has started, the pill won't work.

The morning after pill:

You might use the morning after pill if:

  • you had unprotected sex
  • the condom broke during sex
  • you missed one or more of your usual contraceptive pills
  • you take a contraceptive pill and have been vomiting or had diarrhoea (which can stop your normal contraceptive pill from working)
  • you were sexually assaulted

Where can I get the morning after pill?

You can get emergency contraception without a prescription from:

  • a pharmacy
  • your doctor
  • sexual health clinics
  • family planning centres

What are the different types of morning after pill?

There are 2 types of emergency contraception pill available in Australia. They are both available from pharmacies or your doctor without a prescription.

Levonorgestrel pills

Morning after pills that contain levonorgestrel are also known as LNG pills.

The LNG pill can be used up to 3 days (72 hours) after unprotected sex.

They are a single-dose tablet. You can have a double dose if directed by your doctor or pharmacist.

LNG pills have different brand names. In the United States, one brand name is Plan B. This is why the morning after pill is sometimes called ‘Plan B’.

Ulipristal acetate pills

Morning after pills that contain ulipristal acetate are also known as UPA pills.

UPA pills can be used up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex.

The UPA pill is more effective than the LNG pill, but they can be less available.

How do I know what emergency contraception is right for me?

Your doctor or pharmacist can help work out the best morning after pill for you. This may depend on:

  • how long ago you had unprotected sex
  • your body weight
  • if you are breastfeeding
  • any other medicines you are taking
  • your medical history and other conditions
  • if you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the morning after pill
  • if you have unexplained vaginal bleeding

Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have a medical condition such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • severe liver disease
  • breast cancer
  • severe asthma

Emergency contraceptive pills will not harm a pregnancy if you are already pregnant.

If you regularly take a hormonal contraceptive pill, you can continue it straight after taking an LNG pill. If you take a UPA pill, you should wait 5 days.

Intrauterine contraceptive device

If you can’t take the morning after pill, a copper intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) is an alternative. Copper IUDs are the most effective type of emergency contraception. They must be inserted by a trained health professional.

For emergency contraception, IUDs should be inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex.

How effective is the morning after pill?

Emergency contraception pills can prevent around 85% of expected pregnancies.

The morning after pill works best if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

Is the morning after pill safe?

You may have some mild, short-term side effects, including:

If you vomit within 2 to 3 hours of taking the morning after pill, you should take another pill.

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

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

If you have taken the morning after pill, it's a good idea to follow up with a health professional. You can make an appointment with your doctor, or at a sexual health or family planning clinic.

They can help:

  • advise you on long-term contraception
  • test for pregnancy to check that the morning after pill was effective
  • screen for STIs

You should follow up with your doctor if:

  • your next period is 7 days late or lighter than usual
  • you have taken the morning after pill more than once in your menstrual cycle

Resources and support

For more information about the morning after pill, you can visit the MSI Australia website.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: May 2023

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