Relationships 101

How safe is it to pop in an emergency contraceptive pill after unsafe sex?

An episode of unsafe sex can make you restless - you do not wish to get pregnant? So how safe are emergency contraceptive pills? What are the side-effects?
lady worried with contraceptive pills

Emergency contraceptive pills have taken the world by a storm. An unwanted or an unplanned pregnancy can be a nightmare for many couples, and emergency contraceptive pills can save them provided they act fast. While the 72 hour pill is a great option to avert an unplanned pregnancy, it may be mentioned here that it needs to be used on rare, specific occasion and does not replace the regular contraceptive that you might be using.

Emergency contraceptive pills – Uses

Whether it is a case of a one night stand, forced or unwanted episode of sex, rape, or failure of regular contraceptive method, these accidents can result in unwanted pregnancy. Those accidents can make babies. To save you from the nightmare of unwanted pregnancy, over-the-counter emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) a.k.a. Plan B come to your rescue. Even though the use of these morning-after pills is very common in India, many of us still don’t know how they work and the way they affect our system. Whether or not you had to pop one before, if you are a sexually active woman, then knowing all about the ECPs makes you ready to stall the after-effects of a sexual ‘oops’ moment.

Emergency contraceptive pills
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All you should know about Morning after pills

To understand how the ECPs come in handy after unsafe sex, we need to understand the science behind these pills and how they work. There are many myths about what they can and can’t do. So let’s debunk those right now and know the truth.

1. ECPs are not abortion pills

Emergency contraceptive pill or ECP or morning-after pill or Plan B – whatever you may call it, is not an abortion pill. The single dose pill can be used after unprotected sex or failure of a primary birth control method to prevent unwanted pregnancy. It doesn’t work if the conception has already happened. These pills cannot interfere with an existing foetus or instigate abortion. They are effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The sooner you have it, the better the success rate.

I pill
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2. How do emergency contraceptive pills work?

ECPs prevent pregnancy by delaying ovulation to make sure your ovary takes longer than usual to release the eggs, thereby preventing fertilisation. Emergency contraceptive pills are basically hormonal in nature, most of them containing levonorgestrel – the synthetic version of progesterone. It may be added here that ‘morning-after pills’ can only prevent a pregnancy if the eggs have not been fertilised, they are not effective if implantation has already taken place. These pills are not as reliable as the regular forms of birth control and should not only be taken in case of an emergency.

3. When should you take a morning after pill?

The sooner the better. Ideally, you should take an over-the-counter ECP like i-pill or Unwanted 72 within 72 hours after an episode of unprotected sex. ECPs can prevent up to 95% of pregnancies. Even though the pills are also called morning-after pills, you do not necessarily have to take it in the morning! You can take it any time of the day, as long as it’s within 72 hours time.

Unwanted 72
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4. In what situations can ECPs be used?

  • When no form of birth control was used
  • If the condom broke or slipped
  • If the cervical cap came off, tore or was taken out too early
  • If you missed taking birth control pills
  • If you used contraception incorrectly
  • In case of sexual assault and rape without contraception coverage

Are emergency contraceptive pills completely safe?

To find answer to this most potent question, Bonobology reached out to Dr Meena Jhala (Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, IVF and Infertility Specialist) from Mayflower Women’s Hospital, Ahmedabad.
Since ECPs are single-dose hormonal pills meant for emergency purposes, in that sense it’s completely safe to use. “But repeated use of emergency pills is also not advisable,” said Dr Jhala.

What are the side effects of emergency contraceptive pills?

worried lady
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You may not want an unplanned pregnancy right now, but what about the time when you do want one? Using ECPs to avoid the after-effects of unsafe sex also comes with a big concern about their effect on our fertility. Sexually active young adults who frequently resort to taking the route of Plan B also worry over its effect on periods, whether they can mess up our cycle or induce menopause when taken for a longer period of time.

To put an end to the concerns, Dr Jhala gives us her expert medical opinion. “It can have immediate effects on one of two cycles, but nothing after that. It can make periods delayed over one week or so, but there are no side effects on future fertility or menstruation cycle,” she said. However, prolonged and frequent use of ECP should be avoided. Switching to primary birth control measures is always safer and more effective in the long run

Do they come with any additional benefits?

Hormonal pills are used to treat a range of medical problems for women, but are there any medical benefits of ECPs? According to Dr Jhala, there are none. One or few doses of emergency pills come with no benefits per se, other than preventing unwanted pregnancy.

Are there any real contraindications to the over-the-counter ECPs?

Even though morning-after pills or ECPs are completely safe to use and have no serious or long-term side effects, they are not medically advisable to “those women who are allergic to it or have any pre-existing medical condition such as liver problems, cardiac issues etc.,” said Dr Jhala. The only time using emergency pills is contraindicated is when you know that you are already pregnant or suspect pregnancy. The reasons are twofold. First of all, in case you are already developing an embryo, the pills won’t work. Second, using emergency contraception in this stage will increase your risk of infection, and no matter how against you are to the idea of unplanned pregnancy when the foetus is already there, this is something you definitely don’t want. Additionally, you should not use emergency pills when you are breastfeeding, as the effects are unknown.

Related reading: How not to get pregnant without using a condom?

Spoiler alert

All said and done, emergency contraceptive pills are not 100% effective. They have about 10% failure rate. Which means 1 in 10 women using ECPs to prevent pregnancy will get pregnant! A lot of their effectiveness depends on when you are taking the pill and whether you are in the ‘safe zone’ of your menstrual cycle. So even if you have popped the pills, get tested if your next period gets delayed longer than usual. Also, please use condoms instead of going for Plan B. Emergency pills don’t save you from contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

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