Emergency Contraception: What it’s like to take the morning after pill

The morning after pill is rarely discussed in popular culture, and unfortunately - like many subjects that involve the female body - is still shrouded in stigma. This makes it a difficult topic to bring up, and therefore a difficult subject to find information on. When you need emergency contraception… where do you begin?

Let’s start with the name...

You probably know it as the ‘morning after pill’, but it’s important to clarify that doctors tend to refer to it as Emergency Contraception, to avoid the misconception that it can only be administered the morning after sexual intercourse. In fact, both pill options available in the UK (and the IUD option) can be effective even 3-5 days after sex, although keep in mind that it’s one of those ASAP situations.

Why does stigma exist?

Sometimes it’s unjustified embarrassment over having had unprotected sex (things happen, it’s nothing to be ashamed of!), and sometimes it’s due to the misconception that taking the morning after pill causes an abortion (it doesn’t), there has long been a silence around this much-needed medicine.

According to research carried out in 2018, surveying 46% of 17 to 35-year-olds who had unprotected sex within the last year, only 27% had used emergency contraception. The reasons varied, but 31% of women who were asked said they would have felt embarrassed to ask for it.

At Yoppie, we’re into breaking stigma surrounding women’s health, so let’s dive in…

Who can take emergency contraception?

Most women and young girls can use it, even those who can't use hormonal contraception. The only thing to watch out for is if you have allergies to any of its ingredients or are taking other medications - discuss this with your doctor first.

What does it do?

The two types of morning after pill available in the UK are Levonelle and ellaOne. Both work to stop or delay the release of an egg during ovulation, and they won’t interfere with your regular form of contraception. In fact, they use similar methods to hormonal contraception, except emergency contraception pills offer a much higher dose of synthetic progesterone. Depending on the egg’s progress, this will either prevent sperm from fertilising your eggs, temporarily stop the release of an egg from your ovary, or prevent fertilised eggs from implanting in the uterus. It’s really very clever!

Keep in mind though that emergency contraception is not effective as a regular form of contraception, and if you are already pregnant, the emergency contraception pill will not work.

When can you take it?

Using Levonelle? You must take this within 72 hours (3 days) of having sex. If you’re using ellaOne, you must do so within 120 hours (5 days) of having sex, to effectively prevent pregnancy. An IUD can also be used as a form of emergency contraception, and this can be fitted up to 5 days after having unprotected sex, in order to be effective.

Hold the phone… an IUD can act as emergency contraception?!

Yup! The IUD (intrauterine device) is a small, T-shaped plastic and copper device that's inserted into your uterus by a medical professional to stop any eggs implanting or being fertilised. Less than 1% of women who use one will get pregnant.

What about side effects?

Luckily, there aren’t any serious side effects of taking emergency contraception, but as with any medication, there can be some. In this case, it can bring on headaches or even stomach pain, and could make you feel nauseous or vomit. If you are sick within 2 hours of taking Levonelle, or 3 hours of taking ellaOne, be sure to see your GP or pharmacist ASAP to take another dose.

For more information and stories from people who have taken the morning after pill, visit My Morning After. If you’d like to share your story with us, we’d love to learn about your experience - talk to us over on Instagram @itsyoppie.