The morning after pill

Condom broke or you just forgot to use one? Need the morning after pill? Here’s all you need to know about emergency contraception.

Woman looking shocked

If you've forgotten the pill or to use a condom, there is emergency contraception.

Where can I get the morning after pill?

It’s free from your GP and your local family planning clinic, GUM clinic, sexual health clinic or Brook Centre. You can find your nearest one by using the Brook or NHS Choices website.

If you’re over 16, it’s also available over the counter from selected chemists (you need to be 18 or over to buy ellaOne) and costs around £25.

Whatever option you choose, it’s vital that you seek help fast to keep your options open. If you’re worried about finding an open clinic or chemist, then give your GP, the fpa or Brook a call.

What is the morning after pill?

The term ‘the morning after pill’ is actually misleading. It can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex.

There are two kinds: Levonelle and ellaOne. Levonelle contains a synthetic hormone that prevents the egg from being implanted in the womb. ellaOne prevents or delays ovulation.

How effective is it?

The sooner you take it the more effective it is. A recent trial shows that if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex Levonelle is 95% effective, 85% if taken within 25-48 hours, and 58% if taken within 49-72 hours.

ellaOne can be taken up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex and is believed to be more effective than Levonelle regardless of when you take it.

Are there any side effects?

Some women who take the morning after pill may experience short-term side effects such as dizziness or nausea, stomach cramps, tiredness, irregular bleeding and tiredness.

If you throw up within two hours of taking a pill see your doctor, as it could mess with its effectiveness as a contraceptive.

How will it affect my period?

Most women have a normal period after taking the morning after pill. However, it may come earlier or later. If your period is seven days late, contact your GP as soon as you can.

What if I’m on holiday?

The morning after pill is widely available in Europe and in the USA. You’ll have to pay for it and this varies according to where you are, for example, around £8 in France, £25 in Switzerland, and $35-$60 in the USA.

If you’re going to more remote parts of the world it’s worth taking one with you, just in case they’re not readily available.

So is it a good method of contraception?

The emergency pill shouldn’t be regarded as a contraceptive choice. This is because it can only be used occasionally to be 100% effective. Instead, consider it as a fail-safe should something go wrong with your chosen form of birth control.

Is there any other emergency contraception available?

Yes, the IUD (intrauterine device, or coil).

What is the IUD? And how does it work?

The IUD is a small copper device that must be fitted inside the uterus by a doctor within 120 hours (five days) of unprotected sex. It works in the same way as the emergency contraceptive pill, by preventing an egg implanting in the womb or being fertilised.

It must be worn until your next period (when you’re sure you aren’t pregnant). It can also work as a regular contraceptive (but will only protect against pregnancy and not STIs).

For more information about the coil, read our article here.

Photo of shocked gilr by Shutterstock.

Next Steps

  • FPA give sexual health advice. For Northern Ireland helpline call 0345 122 8687.
  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Nicola Scott

Updated on 29-Sep-2015