There are actually several reasons a person may think they need emergency contraception. They may think that their birth control method failed, they used their birth control incorrectly, they may have had unprotected sex, or they could be the victim of sexual assault. There are many reasons.
The question is, what do you do next?
A popular solution for many women is the emergency contraception pill, or “morning after pill,” or “Plan B.” They can take the pill and it prevents unplanned pregnancy – most of the time.
What is the Emergency Contraceptive Pill?
Emergency contraption is a form of female birth control that can be used within three days (72 hours) and up to five days (120 hours) after having unprotected sex. The woman can take it immediately after having unprotected sex, the day after, or even several days, depending on the type of medication.
There are two types of emergency contraceptive pills in the United States that are approved by the FDA:
- ella® (ulipristal acetate)
- Plan B One-Step® (LNG-only) — Plan B One-Step® also has generic versions which include AfterPill™, My Way®, Next Choice One Dose™, and Take Action™.
Plan B One-Step is available without a prescription to anyone regardless of age. Sometimes it is not kept on the shelf but instead is behind the pharmacy counter so you may have to ask for it. Although Next Choice ® is a Plan B One-Step generic, you have to ask for it at the pharmacy counter to purchase it, but you do not need a prescription. You do have to be at least 17 years old to purchase it. Ella is only available by prescription. You can ask your doctor, OB/GYN, nurse practitioner, or family planning clinic to write a prescription for you.
Emergency contraception pills are not intended to be used as a regular form of birth control.
How Effective is the Emergency Contraceptive Pill?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), emergency contraception is effective in preventing more than 95% of pregnancies when it is taken correctly. This is based on the results of several scientific studies. One study showed that the most common emergency contraceptive pills had a pregnancy rate of just 1.2%.
However, even with such an impressive success rate, the morning after pill can fail.
How Can the Emergency Pill Fail?
Can emergency contraception pills fail? Yes.
It is possible to take the emergency contraception pill and still get pregnant. Several situations make failure of the morning after pill more likely:
- You waited too late to take it. Some morning after pills can be taken up to 5 days after having sex, but for others, the timeframe drops to three days. Know which medication you have and what the window is for taking it.
- You began ovulation before taking the pill. With the emergency birth control pill, timing is everything. A good rule of thumb is to take it as soon as possible. If you wait you could miss the window where the pill is the most effective.
- The emergency contraception pill is not compatible with your body type. A higher BMI can reduce the pill’s effectiveness. Several studies have shown that it does not work as well for women with a BMI that is 30 or higher.
- The emergency contraception is being affected by other medication that you are taking. If you are taking other medication it can affect how well the morning after pill works. Medications that interact with emergency contraception pills include:
- St. John’s wort
Ask the pharmacist if the medication you are taking will make emergency contraception less effective. You can also often find the information in the medication information that is in the packaging.
How Do I Know if Plan B Failed?
If your emergency contraception did fail, you won’t know immediately. It could be up to a month before you know. It should also be noted that taking it could cause your period to be delayed by up to a week.
If you typically have regular periods and you have not started within three or four weeks of taking the pill, you could be pregnant. At that time, you should come into one of our clinics for a pregnancy test or you can purchase a home pregnancy test and take it. Then talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about your next steps.
Your body can begin to show signs of early pregnancy within the first month or so. Some possible early signs of pregnancy include:
- Missed period
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Pelvic, back, or leg pain
- Exhaustion or very tired
- Frequent urination
- Lightheaded or feeling faint
- Light spotting and/or cramping
- Food aversions or cravings
- Mood swings
- Sensitivities to smells
You may have some or all of these signs or you may have none. You may also experience symptoms and not be pregnant. That is why it is important to take a pregnancy test as well as see your healthcare professional.
How Early Can Pregnancy be Detected?
There are different types of pregnancy tests and some detect pregnancy earlier than others. Most pregnancy tests detect hCG levels in the woman’s urine. These tests can detect pregnancy as early as the first day of her missed period. There are some pregnancy tests on the market that are very sensitive and can detect even earlier – before she misses a period.
A blood test can detect pregnancy earlier than a urine test can. A blood test can be taken before a woman even misses her period, around eight to 14 days after ovulation
Ultrasound is a third way that pregnancy can be detected, although it is not standard practice. Blood tests and urine tests can usually detect pregnancy earlier. An ultrasound can detect pregnancy about three days after the woman’s missed period which is approximately 17 days after ovulation.
Common Emergency Contraception Mistakes to Avoid
There are some things you can do to reduce the risk of emergency contraception failure.
- Don’t wait too long to take it.
- If you throw up within an hour of taking the pill, you will need to take another dose. If you are unsure, talk to your healthcare professional right away
- If your BMI is more than 25 to 30, emergency contraception may have a higher risk of failure. You may want to talk to your healthcare provider about other options.
- Wait at least five days before starting or restarting any form of hormonal birth control. Your best bet is to use condoms until you have your next period.
- If you had unprotected sex during ovulation which is about four days before you ovulate and the day following, it can increase your risk of pregnancy. If you have concerns about the pill failing, talk to your healthcare professional.
- Avoid having more unprotected sex after taking emergency contraception. The pill delays ovulation, it does not stop it. It may be a wiser solution to talk to your healthcare provider about regular contraception.
Get the Compassionate Support You Need
Worrying about whether or not you are pregnant is stressful. There are likely a thousand questions running through your mind and the uncertainty can be scary.
The licensed healthcare providers at Pregnancy Care Clinic are here to help you. We offer no cost services like pregnancy tests and ultrasounds so you can get answers fast and get the peace of mind you deserve. If your pregnancy test is positive, you can provide you with information about your options as well as other services.
End the worry and uncertainty. Contact us for your confidential appointment today.