Emergency contraceptives or the ‘morning after pill’ is a form of birth control meant to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. They are to be taken after having unprotected sex or after having used other means of birth control that failed. Most of these drugs have been made available over the counter and have come to the rescue of women everywhere however, emergency contraceptives are should be taken with some caution. Here’s a closer to look to help you understand how to use them.
How do they work?
Emergency contraceptives are mainly of three types but the ones commonly available over the counter are called ‘levonorgestrel-only pills’ (marketed by the brand names I-pill, Norlevo, 72 hours, No fear-72). Levonorgestrel is the synthetic active ingredient in these pills. It inhibits the luteinizing hormone (LH)-surge which is responsible for development and release of the egg (ovulation), by doing so it will delay or prevent ovulation from happening. This effectively means fertilization cannot occur and pregnancy is successfully prevented.
- Do take it as soon as possible after unprotected sexual intercourse; the term ‘morning after pill’ is a misnomer, it can be taken immediately after intercourse, the sooner the better.
- Do take it within a maximum of 120 hours after unprotected sex beyond which it will not be effective.
- Do check with your gynaecologist to see if this pill is suitable for you and seek their advice on the best mode of emergency contraception for you.
- Do remember that it does not protect you against sexually transmitted diseases.
- Do remember that the pill will not be effective if ovulation has already occurred or if fertilized egg is already implanted. (There is a 94% success rate with these drugs.)
- Do take a pregnancy test if you do not get your period three weeks after taking the pill to make sure is no ongoing pregnancy.
- Don’t use emergency contraceptives as a regular contraceptive, it is only meant to be taken as a backup in case of unprotected sex and failure of other means of contraception.
- Don’t be alarmed if you have the following side effects: nausea, vomiting, spotting (very mild bleeding-in spots), menstrual cycle delay or a heavy flow, breast tenderness, fatigue, abdominal pain. These are known side effects and will subside in time, do ask your doctor for help if you have any concerns.
- Don’t take emergency contraceptives if you are pregnant or suspect you might be.
- Don’t take emergency contraceptives for granted if you are obese (a BMI of over 30), studies have shown that the effectiveness of these drugs is significantly reduced in overweight women and the success rate is lesser. There is still ongoing research on this matter and a clear conclusion has not yet been reached.
Doctor by profession, ardent animal lover by choice; she finds writing to be therapeutic. She loves meeting new people, hopes to travel the world and has karaoking with Oprah on top of her bucket list. @kirtana_ponnuswamy