Emergency Contraception (Plan B)

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception (sometimes called Plan B) (EC) reduces the chance of pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse. Common situations in which EC could be used include forgetting to take several birth control pills in a row, having a condom break or slip off, or not using a birth control method during sex. It also can be used after a woman has been raped.

How does emergency contraception work?

Using EC does not cause an abortion. An abortion ends an existing pregnancy. EC prevents pregnancy from occurring. EC must be used soon after unprotected sexual intercourse to be effective. It does not work if pregnancy has already occurred.

What are the different types of emergency contraception?

There are two types of EC: 1) the copper intrauterine device (IUD) and 2) EC pills. There are three types of EC pills: 1) ulipristal, 2) progestin-only pills, and 3) combined EC pills. Some EC pills can be bought over the counter without a prescription. Others require a prescription. An obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) or other health care professional must insert the IUD.

woman holding emergency contraception or plan b pill

What is the most effective form of emergency contraception?

The copper IUD is the most effective form of EC. When taken as directed, ulipristal is the most effective type of EC pill, followed by the progestin-only pill. Combined EC pills are not as effective in preventing pregnancy as the progestin-only EC pill.

How does the copper intrauterine device work?

The copper IUD works mainly by making sperm less able to fertilize the egg. It is the most effective EC method in preventing pregnancy. When used for EC, the copper IUD should be inserted within 5 days of having unprotected sex. You then can rely on the copper IUD for long-term birth control (for up to 10 years). You can have the IUD removed at any time if you wish to become pregnant.

A health care professional must insert the IUD. You can call your ob-gyn or other health care professional or go to a family planning clinic to have the IUD inserted.

What are the possible side effects of using the copper intrauterine device?

With the copper IUD, menstrual pain and bleeding may increase in the first few months of use. Pain can be relieved with over-the-counter pain relievers. Heavy bleeding sometimes can be treated with a medication. Both side effects usually decrease within 1 year of using the copper IUD.

How do emergency contraception pills work?

How often can I use emergency contraception pills?

EC pills can be used more than once during a single menstrual cycle, but you should not rely on EC pills as a long-term birth control method. EC pills are not as effective in preventing pregnancy as using a birth control method consistently and correctly. There also may be more side effects from frequent use of EC than from use of a standard birth control method. If you are not using birth control, talk with your ob-gyn or other health care professional about which method would work best for you.

What are the possible side effects of taking emergency contraception pills?

EC pills have not been shown to cause any serious complications. Your next period may not occur at the expected time. You may have irregular bleeding or spotting in the week or month after taking EC pills that goes away on its own. Other short-term side effects of EC pills can include the following:


Is there anything that decreases the effectiveness of emergency contraception pills?

Being overweight or obese may decrease the effectiveness of EC pills. If you are overweight or obese, you may want to consider having a copper IUD inserted. Copper IUDs are effective in women of any weight.

How can I get emergency contraception as soon as possible?

The progestin-only pill is available over the counter in pharmacies and other stores to anyone of any age. The progestin-only pill usually can be found in the family planning section. Not all stores carry the over-the-counter EC pill, so it is best to call ahead to see if it is available.

You can get EC pills ahead of time so that you always have them if needed. You can purchase them in advance at a pharmacy or online. Many pharmacies offer online ordering and shipping services.

Ulipristal, combined birth control pills, and the copper IUD are available only by prescription. To get a prescription or to have the copper IUD inserted, call your ob-gyn or other health care professional or go to a family planning clinic. Another option is to go to www.not-2-late.com. You also can ask your ob-gyn or other health care professional to give you a prescription for these EC methods at any routine health care visit. That way, you are always prepared if you need to use these forms of EC.

How you start or go back to using birth control after using EC pills depends on which type of EC pills you used:

Do I need follow-up care after using emergency contraception?

No tests or procedures are needed after taking EC. You should have a pregnancy test if you have not had a period within a week of when you expect it. None of the EC pills have been shown to harm a pregnancy or the health of the fetus if you already are pregnant.

Keep in mind that EC does not prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you are at risk of getting an STI and have had unprotected sex, see your ob-gyn or other health care professional.

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