What Is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception can be taken to prevent pregnancy if people who can get pregnant have unprotected sex, or the normal method of contraception that they use fails. Emergency contraception CANNOT be used to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Methods of Emergency Contraception

The emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the ‘morning after pill’) come in two types: Levonelle and ellaOne.

  • Levonelle: this releases the female hormone progestogen into the body to prevent eggs from getting ready to grow in the womb (the beginning stage of pregnancy). You must take Levonelle no later than 3 days after having unprotected sex for it to be effective, although it is recommended for you to take it as soon as possible.
  • ellaOne: this contains a chemical called ulipristal acetate, which stops the body’s natural production of female hormones from working normally, delaying or preventing the body from releasing any eggs for a brief period. You need to take EllaOne no later than 5 days after having unprotected sex for it to be effective, although it is recommended for you to take it as soon as possible. Always remember: Both methods do not continue to protect you against pregnancy after you stop taking them, so you will need to switch to a regular, non-emergency contraceptive once you finish taking the emergency pills prescribed to you.

The emergency IUD (intra-uterine device): this is the same as a regular IUD, and works by releasing copper over time, which prevents pregnancy by thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the uterine lining – making it harder for sperm to get to eggs. You can have the IUD fitted up to 5 days after having unprotected sex for it to be effective. The IUD can be left in after you’ve had it fitted for an emergency, and you can leave it in for 5-10 years (depending on the type of IUD you have fitted) to continue being protected against unwanted pregnancies.

When You May Need Emergency Contraception

  • If you have recently had unprotected sex (within the past 3 to 5 days) and are not intending to get pregnant.
  • If, within the past 3 to 5 days, you have had sex where your contraceptive method has failed (a condom breaking, for example) and you are not intending to get pregnant.
  • If you have had sex on a day when you have forgotten to take your regular contraceptive pill and have not used any other form of contraception (therefore making the sex unprotected) and are not intending to get pregnant.

Where to Get Emergency Contraception

You may be able to get the emergency contraceptive pill for free from the following places (please note that not all these places will offer emergency IUD fittings so please always check before turning up if this is the emergency contraception you would prefer):

  • Contraception clinics.
  • Sexual health/genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics.
  • Some GP surgeries.
  • Most pharmacies.
  • Most NHS Minor injury/walk in clinics.
  • Some accident and emergency (A&E) departments – always phone first to check.

You can also buy the emergency contraceptive pill from your local pharmacy or through an organisation such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). The cost will be around £25-£35.

Further Support and Information About Emergency Contraception

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