Emergency contraception is a method of preventing pregnancy that can be used in the event that you have unprotected sex, or your regular birth control fails. Emergency contraception options include pills, commonly called the “morning after pill,” or copper IUDs. Emergency contraception is less effective at preventing pregnancy than other contraceptive options, so it should never be your regular form of birth control. Discuss your birth control options with your gynecologist to develop an effective plan that works best for you.
Hormonal Emergency Contraceptive Pills
The most common form of emergency contraceptive is a hormonal birth control pill, or “morning after pill.” There are three basic types of these pills, which come in varying dosages and types of hormones.
One option is a pill containing the hormone levonorgestrel. There are several brands of levonorgestrel pills, including My Way, Plan B One-Step, Preventeza, and Take Action. These are available over-the-counter at most pharmacies. Be sure to read the correct dosages for these options. Most are sold as a single pill, but depending on your weight, you may need to take two for the contraceptive to be effective.
Another option is ulipristal, which includes the brand names ella or ellaOne.
In some cases, you can use your regular birth control pills as emergency contraception by taking multiple pills at one time. This method is typically less effective, but is an option especially for those who usually take birth control pills but missed their standard dose. Before using this method, discuss the correct dosage with the doctor who prescribed your birth control to you.
The copper IUD can be used as an emergency contraceptive, and is especially useful for women who are in need of emergency contraception but are overweight or obese, as hormonal pills have been found to be less effective for these patients. In order to be used as emergency contraception, the copper IUD must be inserted within five days of when you had unprotected sex or your regular birth control method failed.
Copper IUDs work because copper naturally kills sperm. The IUD is inserted into the uterus by a gynecologist. Once in place, the IUD can remain for up to ten years, and is about 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
When Should I Take Emergency Contraceptives?
Emergency contraceptives can be used for 3-5 days after you have unprotected sex or your birth control fails, but it’s best to take the pill or have the IUD inserted as soon as possible to better prevent pregnancy. If your condom breaks or you forget to take your regular birth control pills, for example, it’s advisable to pursue emergency contraceptives.
How Do I Choose an Emergency Contraceptive?
Choosing the best emergency contraceptive option for you depends on several factors. One is whether you can quickly get a prescription or appointment from your doctor. If not, it may be best to choose over-the-counter levonorgestrel pills. Another factor is your weight. If you are significantly overweight or obese, emergency contraceptive pills may be less effective for you, in which case a copper IUD may be your best option. Finally, if you can’t obtain emergency contraceptives but already have a birth control pill prescription, you may decide to take an emergency dose of your pills.
Schedule an Appointment
The best option is to plan ahead if possible. Discuss your regular and emergency birth control options with your gynecologist before an urgent situation arises, so that you are prepared and can take emergency contraception as soon as possible if it becomes necessary. Your gynecologist may also suggest a more effective form of birth control, such as an IUD, so that you can avoid emergency contraceptives altogether.
To schedule an appointment with a gynecologist at Carnegie Women’s Health, call our office at (315) 628-7063 or request an appointment online.