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Student Health Services

Emergency Contraception

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency Contraception, also called the "Morning After Pill", or MAP, is a way to reduce the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex. It uses a special type or dose of birth control to prevent pregnancy, and must be prescribed by a clinician. It does not protect you from sexually transmitted illnesses.

When should I use the morning after Pill?

It can be used when you have had sex without protection or if the birth control method you used did not work (for example, the condom broke). You must start the pills as soon as possible after sex, but within 72 hours (3 days). By acting quickly, you can help lower your risk of getting pregnant, because the MAP becomes less effective with every 24 hours that pass.

How effective is it?

The morning after pill is 98.5% effective in preventing pregnancy. That is, on average, if 100 women had one act of sex without birth control in a month, 8 of them would get pregnant. Had those women used emergency contraception, only 2 would get pregnant.

How does it work?

Everyone knows that when you have sex, if the sperm fertilizes the egg, you get pregnant. But, it doesn't happen immediately, so there is time to interrupt the necessary events. An egg has to be available and the sperm has to get to the egg within about 24 hours of ovulation to fertilize it. The fertilized egg has to travel down the fallopian tube and enter the uterus. And last of all, the fertilized egg has to attach to the lining of the uterus before a pregnancy happens. All this takes anywhere from 8 to 10 days. If you can stop any one of these things from occurring, you can prevent the pregnancy. The morning after pill may inhibit or delay the release of the egg. It may prevent implantation of the egg in the uterus. It may also prevent fertilization or transport of sperm or egg in the fallopian tube. It is not entirely clear how it works, and it may actually use a combination of these things.

How do I take it?

You will be given 4 pills to take as soon as you can, but within 72 hours of the unprotected sex. You take the remaining 4 pills 12 hours later.

Who can take the morning after pill?

Any woman who is able to take birth control pills can take the morning after pill safely. Since it is not taken regularly, even some women who cannot use the birth control pill can take the MAP. You need to be certain that you are not already pregnant before taking the MAP, so a pregnancy test is often done before giving you the medication.

Are there side effects?

The most common side effect of the MAP is nausea (upset stomach) or vomiting (throwing up). It may help to eat something before taking each set of the pills. If you vomit within an hour after taking your pills, call the Student Health Center for instructions. Less often, you may experience breast tenderness, irregular menstrual bleeding, headache, abdominal pain or cramps and dizziness. More serious side effects (like blood clots, stroke, and heart attack) are rare and are the same kinds of side effects that women taking the birth control pill can have.

What should I expect after taking the medication?

The spotting that you may get with the MAP is not your period. Your next menstrual period should begin sometime within the next 2 or 3 weeks. If your period has not started in 3 weeks, see your clinician for an examination and pregnancy test.

Remember: The morning after pill is an emergency contraceptive. It does not protect you from pregnancy for the rest of your cycle, so you still have to use birth control. It is not as effective as regular birth control and should be used only as a backup when a more effective regular birth control method didn't work, or you didn't use it.