Morning-after pill: Know how emergency contraception works and its side effects

Morning-after pills, if taken within 120 hours, can help stop an unwanted pregnancy. However, be aware of its side effects.
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Morning-after pills should be taken only in emergency situations. Image courtesy: Freepik
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 12 Nov 2023, 19:30 pm IST
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An unexpected night of passion can often lead to a day of stress as you think and rethink about your ovulation dates, hoping that you don’t land up with an unwanted pregnancy. Morning-after pills come as a huge relief at this point. However, if you also find yourself hysterically looking the side effects of this pill, and then, in turn stress about how it will affect your body, we got you! Here is everything that you need to know about these morning-after pills!

How does a morning after pill work?

Whether you have had unprotected sex, or a broken condom, the morning-after pill can be your saviour. Gynaecologist Dr Srividhya Guddeti says, “The morning-after pill primarily works by preventing or delaying ovulation, thereby preventing the release of an egg from the ovary. It may also thicken cervical mucus, which can make it difficult for sperm to reach the egg.”

Can contraceptive pills also work as morning-after pills?

Wondering if your regular contraceptive pill can work as a morning-after pill as well? It can, says Dr Guddeti, but there are some things to keep in mind. “Not all contraceptive pills can serve as morning-after pills. So consulting a healthcare professional is crucial. Currently, birth control pills are not approved for use as emergency contraception.”

Woman with pack of abortion pills
Post taking a Morning-after pill, you must consult a doctor.

What is the most effective morning-after pill?

The most commonly used oral emergency contraceptive regimen includes the progestin-only pill (levonorgestrel) and the selective progesterone receptor modulator (ulipristal acetate). “Both are effective if taken within the recommended time frame, with ulipristal acetate being more effective than levonorgestrel, especially when taken closer to ovulation,” says Dr Guddeti.

How to take a morning after pill?

Be as quick as you can! “The morning-after pill should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse, ideally within 72 hours, depending on the type. It is not intended for regular use and should be reserved for emergencies only, as it can disrupt the menstrual cycle if used frequently. They work by delaying or stopping ovulation,” explains Dr Guddeti.

If you are wondering what to do after 120 hours, well the morning-after pill’s effectiveness significantly decreases after 72 hours and is generally not recommended after 120 hours. “Levonorgestrel is effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse and is available as an over-the-counter medicine,” says Dr Guddeti.

She adds, “Ulipristal acetate is effective within 120 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse and has been proven to be more effective in avoiding pregnancy after unprotected intercourse compared to levonorgestrel. However, it is not available over the counter. It is highly efficacious in obese patients compared to levonorgestrel. Safety in breastfeeding mothers is yet to be studied.”

What are the side effects of morning-after pills?

Emergency contraceptive pills have no serious long-term effects. “They can cause nausea and vomiting, and they can alter the timing of periods, either advancing or postponing them, and may cause painful periods,” says Dr Guddeti. However, if vomiting occurs within 2 hours of ingestion, it is advisable to repeat the dosage.

But here is what you must do after the pill. “As none of the emergency contraception methods are 100% efficacious, it is important to consult your gynaecologist if the period is missed in that cycle, as always ruling out intrauterine pregnancy or ectopic pregnancy is mandatory,” says Dr Guddeti.

What is better: getting an IUD or using morning-after pills?

Both options have distinct advantages and considerations. While an IUD can function as a long-term contraception method and also serve as emergency contraception, it requires insertion by a healthcare provider. Morning-after pills, on the other hand, are easily accessible and do not necessitate a medical procedure. However, they are not intended for long-term use and can potentially result in side effects.
“Specifically, the IUD can be utilised as non-hormonal emergency contraception within 120 hours of unprotected intercourse. Its copper content works by altering sperm ascent and creating a hostile environment for embryo implantation. Moreover, it is more efficacious, serving the dual purpose of regular contraception once inserted, which makes it superior to emergency pills,” explains Dr Guddeti.

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Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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