What are my options for Emergency Contraception?

Contraception, morning after pill on beside, Melbourne

Unprotected sex, while not desirable in many situations, is a fact of life. And let’s face it, who hasn’t had a fright about an unplanned pregnancy? You might have missed a pill, the condom broke or maybe as a couple you just got lazy and didn’t use anything. Emergency contraception is an option for many women to consider.

When do I need emergency contraception?

Whenever you have had unprotected sex and do not wish to fall pregnant, you should consider emergency contraception. Especially if you have had sex around the midcycle time of your normal menstrual pattern. Emergency contraception needs to be used within a maximum of 4-5 days of unprotected sex. The sooner it is used after sex, the higher the chance of you avoiding a pregnancy.

The morning after pill comes in two forms:

  • Levonorgestral
  • Ulipristal

Taking the morning-after pill for emergency contraception needs to be taken within five days, but preferably within three days, of having sex. It is about 85% successful in preventing pregnancy. Ulipristal has a slightly higher success rate.

How do I get the morning after pill?

You can go to any pharmacy and ask for it from the pharmacist. A prescription is not required, however you will need to pay the costs of the medication.

 Are there any side effects from taking the morning after pill?

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Bloating
  • Sore or tender breasts

These symptoms may resemble pre-menstrual syndrome.

Why doesn’t it always work?

You might be late taking the morning after pill, or, you might vomit within 2-3 hours of taking it. If you do vomit, you can go to the chemist and buy a repeat and take that. If you are on any medication if can also interfere with the success of the morning after pill.

Is there another method? I heard the IUD can be used for emergency contraception.

The copper IUD is extremely effective as an emergency contraception if inserted within 4 days of unprotected sex. It has a 99% success rate. See your doctor urgently and arrange a prescription and insertion of the IUD at your GP, Gynaecologist or local Family Planning Clinic.

Does the morning-after pill prevent STDs?

No. If you suspect in the aftermath you possibly have contracted a sexually transmitted disease, see your doctor for testing.

How do I know it has worked?

You should get your period 4-5 weeks after your last period. Regardless of when the period arrives, you should do a home pregnancy test to be certain you are not pregnant. Light bleeding can mimic a light period in early pregnancy. If your period has not arrived after five weeks you should consider a pregnancy test.

Is there anything else I should know about Emergency Contraception?

  • The morning-after pill will not harm a continuing pregnancy
  • There are no serious health effects from taking the morning-after pill.
  • The morning-after pill is safe for breastfeeding women
  • The morning after pill can be taken after you have a baby (postnatally)


The morning-after pill is not suitable or effective for ongoing use. It is best used as emergency contraception only. Consider using a regular method of contraception that is more effective, this will help you avoid future stressful situations. Choose a method you are familiar with or talk to your doctor about all the options.

Managing your contraceptive requirements is as easy as talking to your GP.

If you need an appointment with a Melbourne gynaecologist, call the rooms today or send an email.

Author: Dr Peter England, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist.
Read more about Dr Peter England


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