The morning after pill is a form of emergency contraception, designed to be taken soon after unprotected sex or in the case that your regular contraception has failed. Two forms of the pill are relevant here: Levonelle, which has to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, and ellaOne, which must be taken within 120 hours. Other countries may have different brand names, but all emergency contraception pills work in the same basic way.
So, what happens when you take the morning after pill, and what can you expect in the days following? Firstly, the pills work by delaying or preventing ovulation, as the time around ovulation is when you are most likely to become pregnant. Basically, it stops progesterone from being produced normally, thereby preventing ovulation and making the uterus unable to accept any fertilised egg. The emergency pill is considered to be effective at preventing pregnancy, with a high success rate. However, they do not continue to prevent pregnancy, and you must use contraception when having sex after taking the emergency pill.
You can get these pills at a variety of locations, including your GP, a specialist clinic for sexual health or contraception, a walk-in medical centre, and even some pharmacies. Despite their effectiveness and the fact that they are easy to access, one of the major downsides, and things to look out for are the side effects of emergency contraception.
The side effects vary among women, but most experience at least some side effects in the days after taking the pill. Feeling sick or nauseous are common, as are abdominal pains and cramps. Many women experience tiredness in the days after taking emergency contraception, and some even get headaches. Less common side effects include breast tenderness and dizziness, as well as vomiting. Remember that if you vomit within two hours of taking the pill, you should seek medical advice as you may require another dose.
Some women also find that their menstrual cycle is affected by the emergency contraceptive pill. Their period might come sooner or later than expected, due to the delaying of ovulation. There may also be spotting or light bleeding before their period arrives, which is generally nothing to worry about. However, if your period is more than seven days late after taking the pill, or is much lighter than usual, then you should see a doctor to check for pregnancy.
There are some circumstances under which you should see a doctor after taking the emergency contraceptive pill. If you think you are pregnant regardless, or if your period is more than a week late as mentioned above, you should seek medical advice. The same applies if your period is different to how it usually is, either in length or heaviness. Also, if you experience sudden or unusual abdominal pain, beyond normal cramping, as this may be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy – though this is rare.
The pill does not have long-term effects and can be taken more than once by the same person. As we have seen, it is an effective form of emergency contraception that is easy to get your hands on, but in the days following your use of the pill you are likely to experience a range of side effects. The information above will hopefully instruct you well on when to seek medical help, and what to expect in general.