Emergency contraception - what is it?

 You can take emergency contraception (EC) after unprotected sex to stop getting pregnant. There are two EC types available – the emergency pill or the emergency coil, both only effective if taken within a certain amount of time after sex. Use the calculator to see what EC options you have and how long you have left to get them.

Emergency contraceptive methods

 

What is it?

  • An emergency tablet taken by mouth that protects you from pregnancy after unprotected sex.
  • There are two types available: Levonelle - effective if taken within 72hrs/3 days of sex and Ellaone - effective if taken within 120hrs/5days of sex.

 

How does it work?

  • Delays ovulation (the release of an egg) or prevents a fertilised egg from settling (implanting) in your womb lining.
  • May work better if taken as soon as possible after sex – hence the name “morning after pill”.

 

What’s great about it?

  • Is effective and safe with few side effects or long term effects.
  • You can take Levonelle more than once in any monthly cycle. ellaOne cannot be used more than once in the same cycle or if you have taken Levonelle previously in the same cycle.

 

What’s not so great about it?

  • Is not 100% effective - so a few women may fall pregnant even after taking it. The emergency coil is more effective - 99%.
  • Will not protect you from any future unprotected sex so starting general contraception is advisable.
  • The emergency pill should not be used as a regular contraceptive.
  • Will not protect against sexually transmitted infections – so condoms advisable.
  • Will not work if you are already pregnant. Medical research and legal judgement are quite clear that emergency contraception does not cause abortion. Abortion can only take place after a fertilised egg has implanted in the uterus.
  • If you already on a general hormonal contraceptive, ellaOne may reduce the effectiveness of it for up to sixteen days and so condoms are advisable during this time. Levonelle or the emergency coil may be more appropriate in this instance.

 

Where can I get it?

  • Levonelle can be purchased from some pharmacies. (Cost approx £25). It is stocked behind the counter, so you will need to ask for it. You need to be aged 16 years or older and may need ID.
  • It is provided free of charge at family planning clinics, sexual health clinics, some GP practices, A and E / NHS Walk in departments and some young people services e.g. Brook.
  • Some services may not provide ellaOne so it is advisable to phone ahead first to check.

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What is it?

  • A small, soft, flexible, plastic T shaped device that fits inside the womb.
  • It is easily inserted by a trained health care professional.

 How does it work?

  • Prevents sperm surviving in the womb and fallopian tubes and stops fertilisation of an egg.
  • Prevents implantation of a fertilised egg in the womb lining.

 What’s great about it?

  • Is safe and extremely effective (99%) in preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex. 
  • It can be kept in place as an ongoing form of contraception for 5-10 years .
  • Otherwise it's easily removed when you get your next period.
  • Does not cause abortion.
  • Doesn’t contain hormones.
  • Fertility rapidly returns after it is removed.
  • Can be used by women who have never had a baby.

 What’s not so great about it?

  • No protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) - condoms advised.
  • If the coil can't be fitted immediately you may need to take the emergency pill as well.
  • Insertion can be slightly uncomfortable but local anaesthetic reduces this.
  • Can become displaced or fall out (expulsion) but this is uncommon (5 in 100).
  • There is a small risk of pelvic infection for up to 3 weeks after insertion. You may be given antibiotics at the fitting to prevent this.
  • Very small risk of perforating the womb or cervix (1 in 2000).

 Where can I get it?

  • Chelsea and Westminster Sexual Health service. 
  • Family planning clinics, some GPs and other sexual health clinics.

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