What is a morning after pill?
A morning after pill is an everyday term for an emergency contraceptive pill. It is taken after unprotected sex to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. There are two kinds of morning after pills available in the UK, Levonelle and ellaOne. Levonelle is a hormonal contraceptive whose active ingredient is levonorgestrel, a synthetic version of the natural hormone progesterone that is produced by your body. A Levonelle tablet is believed to prevent ovulation, protecting you from pregnancy (if taken within 3 days of unprotected sex).
Women who had unprotected sex more than 3 days ago may require ellaOne. This morning after pill contains ulipristal acetate which temporarily prevents the bodily hormone progesterone from working naturally. It may also prevent or delay ovulation.
A morning after pill will not protect you from pregnancy if you continue to have unprotected sex after you have taken it. The sooner that you take Levonelle after unprotected sex, the higher the chances of it working effectively. Used correctly, ellaOne is up to 95% effective throughout the 5 day window of protection.
A morning after pill is not an ‘abortion pill’. It does not terminate a pregnancy, but prevents you from becoming pregnant in the first place
When would I need a morning after pill?
If you had unprotected sex, you may be at risk of pregnancy. This could happen due to a broken condom, forgetting to use your regular method of contraception, overindulgence in alcohol, or through impulsive behaviour. Whatever the reason for having unprotected sex, you may be very worried about an unwanted pregnancy. If less than 5 days have passed since intercourse took place, a morning after pill may provide full retroactive protection against pregnancy.
A morning after pill does not provide any protection against sexually transmitted infections. If you had unprotected sex with anyone except a trusted partner, you should seek immediate medical advice and testing for STIs.
What morning after pills are available?
There are two brands of morning after pill available in the UK, Levonelle and ellaOne. Levonelle is a hormonal contraceptive that may be effective for up to 3 days or 72 hours after having unprotected sex. Each tablet contains a one-time dosage of 1500mcg of the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel. This mimics the body’s natural hormone progesterone to prevent ovulation.
The morning after pill ellaOne contains a synthetic hormone called ulipristal acetate. This substance temporarily suppresses your body’s natural progesterone hormone, preventing or delaying the release of an egg (ovulation). ellaOne may be effective for up to 5 days or 120 hours after unprotected sex.
The hours and days following unprotected sex can be a difficult and stressful time. You may have anxieties about the possibility of having contracted a sexually transmitted infection, as well as the possibility of becoming pregnant. If you think that you may be at risk of unwanted pregnancy, it is important to obtain a prescription for emergency contraception immediately.
How to avoid unprotected sex
Unprotected sex usually happens when there is a failure of contraception or when you behave impulsively. If you are sexually active (or there is a chance that you may be) it is a good idea to always keep some condoms at home, or even to consider keeping some discreetly in your purse or handbag. This is recommended even if you are using another form of contraception.
If you are using hormonal contraceptives, be meticulous about using them correctly. This means taking the pill at the correct time on the correct day, or changing and reapplying a vaginal ring or skin patch at exactly the right time.
Alcohol and drugs may play a big role in choosing to have unprotected sex, particularly in young people. It’s better not to drink beyond a point where your inhibitions are significantly lowered and your judgement impaired, but if you are going to, ensure that you always have full contraceptive protection.