Contraception Emergency Pill

The “morning after” or “emergency contraception” pill is considered by many as a desperate measure of preventing pregnancy after engaging in sexual intercourse. Scientists have not determined the exact mechanism of how this drug functions to prevent pregnancy. Taking the “emergency pill” may either inhibit ovulation (which is the more likely explanation) or interrupt the process of implantation of the embryo, thereby reducing the chances of a pregnancy to continue. The “morning after pill” should be used sparingly as an emergency form of birth control, no more than 72 hours after unprotected sex.

How Does the Emergency Pill Work?

The emergency contraception pill contains hormones similar to birth control pills, but in much higher doses. The Plan B® pill contains the hormone levonorgestrel, while other types of emergency contraception pill contain two separate hormones (estrogen and progestin).

These hormones in the emergency pill may interfere with the ovulation process by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovary. Also, there are some findings that state the hormones make it more difficult for sperm to travel through the reproductive tract.

How Effective is the Morning After Pill?

Simply put, the sooner after intercourse you take the emergency pill, the more effective it is.

  • If you take the Next Choice® or Plan B® pill within 72 hours of having unprotected sex, your pregnancy risk is reduced by 89 percent.
  • If you use high-dose birth control pills as emergency contraception, your risk is reduced by 75 percent.

Side Effects of The Morning After Pill

While the morning after pill is safe for most women, others experience side effects, which may include:

  • Changes in menstrual cycle
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting.

Approximately 50 percent of women taking an emergency contraceptive become very ill within the first 24 hours. Ask your doctor about using anti-nausea medication after taking the pill. Also, make sure to eat before taking the emergency pill and contact a doctor if you’re worried about potential side effects.

The Safety of the Morning After Pill

Emergency contraception is made from the same hormones used to produce regular birth control. It’s safe for most women and doesn’t have the same risks associated with taking birth control pills continuously.

The pill should be for rare emergency situations only and shouldn’t be used as a regular form of birth control. Frequent use of the emergency pill can cause periods to become irregular. Other forms of birth control are also more effective then emergency contraception. Remember that the emergency contraception pill doesn’t offer protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Getting Access to the Emergency Pill

The morning after pill is available to women ages 17 and older at drugstores and health centers. A prescription isn’t necessary, but you’ll need to show identification when buying the emergency pill. Costs for over-the-counter medications vary from $10 to $70.

Girls ages 16 and younger may have access to the pill; however, they will need a prescription. Contact your doctor right away and explain the situation. Pharmacies who sell the Plan B® pill can usually fill it within a couple hours. The cost for prescription medication is much higher — often up to $250, in addition to doctor’s fees. If you have difficulty paying for the emergency pill, contact your local family planning clinic, who may charge much less than other providers.


Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research Staff. (2010). Morning after pill: Emergency birth control. Retrieved February 9, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site:

Planned Parenthood Staff. (2010). Emergency contraception (Morning after pill). Retrieved February 9, 2010, from the Planned Parenthood Web site:

U.S. National Library of Medicine Staff. (2010). Emergency contraception. Retrieved February 9, 2010, from the Medline Plus Web site: