The morning-after pill

Published by cheree
Published on 15 January 2008

There are around 200,000 abortions carried out in the UK every year, yet there is an emergency solution that can avoid unwanted pregnancy following unprotected sex: the morning-after pill.

There are around 200,000 abortions carried out in the UK every year, yet there is an emergency solution that can avoid unwanted pregnancy following unprotected sex: the morning-after pill.

Emergency contraception
- The morning-after pill is a special method of contraception that allows you to reduce the risk of pregnancy greatly after having unprotected sex, forgetting your pill, or should your other contraception fail (a condom split, for example).
- This pill consists of the female hormone progesterone that prevents the egg from being fertilised and embedding itself in the uterus. But once the fertilised egg is implanted in the uterus, the morning-after pill is of no use.
- In the UK, the morning-after pill goes under the name of Levonelle (Levonelle One Step, which can be bought over the counter, and Levonelle 1500, which is prescription-only).

Where can you get it from?
- You can get the morning-after pill for free on the NHS from your doctor, family planning clinic, GUI clinic, walk-in clinic or Brook advisory clinic.
- It’s also available from most pharmacies without a prescription but it will cost you £22.

How to use it
The morning-after pill should be taken as quickly as possible after unprotected sex. The maximum time delay is 72 hours (3 days), but the longer you wait, the less effective the emergency contraception will be. It’s estimated to be about 90% reliable if taken within 12 hours and beyond that, its reliability falls to 50% or lower.

Side effects
Taking the morning-after pill can sometimes give the following side effects: headaches, stomach aches, slight bleeding (not to be confused with your period), and nausea. These occur in around a quarter of cases. If you vomit within three hours of taking the morning-after pill, you’ll need to take another one.

After taking the morning-after pill
Watch out for the start of your period: the date might be slightly different to what you expect, but if it’s more than 5 days late, take a pregnancy test and see your doctor.
The same applies if your period seems abnormal: shorter, longer, more painful, or heavier than usual.
If you're on the ordinary Pill, continue taking it and use another form of contraception such as condoms until the end of your cycle.

What you need to know
Like the emergency coil, the morning-after pill is for use in an emergency and is not there to replace your usual contraceptive. Don’t be afraid of asking your doctor about the wide range of options available to you: the pill, injection, or coil, for example, if you have a regular partner; or condoms if you’re not in a steady relationship.

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