Emergency contraceptives play a huge role in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Today, we will take a closer look at which methods are currently available and how they work. You may have more choice than you realized!
Emergency contraceptive methods
Emergency contraceptive methods
- Ella (Ulipristal Acetate) — a prescription only method.
- Plan B, One-Step, Next Choice (Levonogestrel) — prescription free if you’re 17 or over, and prescription only if you are younger.
- Combined pills, also known as the Yuzpe regimen. These are ordinary combined oral contraceptives used in higher doses to achieve the same effect as the morning-after pill.
- Perhaps least known, the copper intrauterine device, Paragard.
All of these emergency contraceptive methods that are currently available in the United States have their own particular benefit. Ella, the prescription-only pill, can be used for up to five days following the unprotected intercourse. Ella works by preventing ovulation — it prevents the rupture of a mature follicle. It will not harm an existing pregnancy, and doesn’t cause abortions. Ella is 62-85 percent effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy, and can cause nausea and headaches as temporary side effects. Ella isn’t effective if you had sex during ovulation, so it pays off to know your cycle even if you are hoping to prevent pregnancy.
Levonogestrel only emergency contraceptives such as (most famously) Plan B can be taken up to three days following unprotected sex. The sooner you take Plan B, the higher the chance that it is going to do its job. Taken closer to ovulation, Plan B is much more effective than Ella. However, like Ella, this pill will not work once ovulation has already occurred. This fact makes both emergency contraceptives suitable for women who do not want to prevent implantation of an already fertilized egg.
One little mentioned form of emergency contraception that can be used up to seven days following unprotected intercourse is the Paragard intrauterine device. The Paragard can be used as an emergency contraceptive and is a long-term birth control method as well, solving two problems at once. This method does, however, prevent the implantation of an egg that was already fertilized.
Finally, something about the Yuzpe regimen, which is interesting because it uses your ordinary combined oral contraceptives following unprotected intercourse, in higher doses. You can ask your doctor about this one if you are interested. However, you should know that the Yuzpe regimen is less effective than all other options, and has more side effects. Vomiting and nausea are common.
When should you use emergency contraceptives?
Emergency contraception can be used in a variety of different circumstances. Women who had intercourse without using any form of contraception, or who used the pull-out method, are obviously great candidates. But emergency contraceptives are also there for women who do use contraceptives but who experienced some type of problem with their chosen birth control method. Condoms slipping or breaking is one example, but the same can happen with some of the lesser known contraceptive methods like cervical caps and diaphragms. Then, there are plenty of women who didn’t use the pill correctly — missing too many active pills, or starting their packages late.
Using emergency contraceptives is safe for practically every woman. Ella should not be used by women who are breastfeeding at the moment, but they can use Plan B or the two-pill generic alternative to Plan B. There are some cases in which the copper intrauterine device should not be inserted. If you have unexplained vaginal bleeding in between periods, you should not choose the Paragard IUD for instance. This is something you should discuss with your healthcare provider in more detail.
One thing you should be aware of is that morning-after pills are much less likely to be effective in obese women. That is those who have a BMI of 30 or over. Paragard is a much better option for you if you are obese and hoping to avoid pregnancy by using emergency contraceptives. If it happens that you can’t use Paragard for medical reasons, then you should know that Ella is more effective for obese women than the over the counter alternatives.
Before using emergency contraceptives, particularly the pills, you should be aware that there is still a chance that you get pregnant despite the morning-after pill. Those women who choose to use emergency contraceptive pills (not the IUD) should also know that no harm will be done to a fetus that develops despite their use. Do keep in mind that the morning-after pill is really not recommended for regular use, and that you should definitely get tested for sexually transmitted diseases if you have had unprotected sex with someone you are not absolutely sure about.