The morning-after pill offers women an option after sex has occurred. If a birth control failure has occurred or a contraceptive was not used, help is available without a prescription at pharmacies across the country. While easy access to this type of contraceptive is new, the drugs themselves are not. The morning-after pill is, essentially, a high-dose oral contraceptive combining both estrogen and progesterone.
The morning-after pill, or emergency contraception, is taken after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Emergency contraception prevents ovulation and thickens the cervical mucus to block sperm. The hormones also thin the lining of the uterus, creating an inhabitable environment. While the morning-after pill is not as effective as other contraceptive choices, it can significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy.
Emergency contraceptives are most effective if used as soon as possible after unprotected sex or birth control failure. Planned Parenthood states a reduced risk of pregnancy if taken within five days, but manufacturer recommendations for Plan B and Next Choice require that the morning after pill be taken within a 72-hour window.
Side effects may include nausea and occasional vomiting. Breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, headaches and dizziness are also possible. These side effects are apt to be more pronounced if you use birth control pills as emergency contraception rather than purchasing the morning-after pill.
Women over 17 years old may purchase Plan B, Plan B One Step or Next Choice emergency contraceptives over the counter at their local pharmacies or Planned Parenthood. These are available to girls under 17 with a doctor’s prescription. If available, birth control pills may also be used as a morning-after pill; however, dosing will depend upon the brand.
The morning-after pill should not be confused with an abortion pill. While the morning-after pill will prevent pregnancy in many cases if taken as directed, it will not terminate an existing pregnancy. Emergency contraception is quite safe but should not be used routinely. It is both less effective and more expensive than most typical contraceptives.