The Emergency Contraceptive Pill - what it is and how it works
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The Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP) AKA ‘The Morning After Pill’ can be taken to reduce the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex. That means, if you’ve had sex and the condom broke or you didn’t use a condom and aren’t using another form of reliable birth control, the ECP is your back up plan.

How does the Emergency Contraceptive Pill work?

The ECP works by stopping or slowing down ovulation, which is when your eggs are released from your ovaries. It also stops the egg and sperm from meeting.

If you are already pregnant the ECP will not affect, interrupt or harm the pregnancy.

The Emergency Contraceptive Pill works best within 24 hours of unprotected sex

It’s best to take ECP as soon as possible, but it can still work up to 3-5 days after unprotected sex. Two types of ECP are available from a pharmacist without a prescription: Levonorgestrel can be taken up to 72 hours (3 days) and Ulipristal Acetate can be used up to 120 hours (5 days) after sex.  Remember though, it’s not 100% effective so you may still need to do a pregnancy test just to make sure you’re not pregnant a few weeks later. It also doesn’t have a lasting effect: if you have sex anytime after taking the ECP, you can still become pregnant.

Is the Emergency Contraceptive Pill safe?

The ECP is very safe and it has no serious or long-lasting side effects. Some may get an irregular period, feel a little bit sick or have sore breasts after they take it. But nothing major.

After you take the Emergy Contraceptive Pill your period can come a little bit earlier or can be a little late. You may even get a little bit of bleeding a few days after taking the ECP but this is NOT a period.

It’s a good idea to see a Youth Health Nurse, GP (general practitioner) or Family Planning clinic if your next period is more than a week late, if your period isn’t normal, if you want to start ongoing contraception, if you’re worried for any reason or would like a sexual health checkup.

You can get the ECP over the counter from any pharmacy without a prescription and in some cases, free of charge through a sexual health centre or youth health service.

Does the Emergency Contraceptive Pill protect from STIs?

Though the ECP is great for preventing accidental pregnancy, it does not offer protection against STIs – only condoms can do that. If you had unprotected sex you should also go and get an STI test.

If you want to know more call 1800 451 624 between 9:00am and 5:30pm Monday to Friday to talk with a sexual health nurse. It’s confidential and free if you call from a landline.