Emergency Contraception

If you have had unprotected sex and are worried about getting pregnant, you have two choices of emergency contraception: taking the Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP), or so-called "morning after pill", or having a doctor insert an intrauterine device.

When is emergency contraception used?

Emergency contraception is for women who want to prevent an unplanned pregnancy when no contraceptive has been used or when there was failure or incorrect use, such as:

  • breakage or untimely removal of a condom
  • failure to withdraw (coitus interruptus) with ejaculation in the vagina or around the external genitalia
  • expulsion, breakage, or untimely removal of a diaphragm or cervical cap
  • having missed 3 or more contraceptive pills, or more than 3 hours late taking the minipill (Micronor)
  • having delayed the administration of an injectable contraceptive (Depo-Provera) of 2 weeks or more
  • dislodgment, delay in placing, or early removal of a contraceptive hormonal skin patch (Evra) or ring (NuvaRing)
  • being sexually assaulted when not on a regular contraceptive

What are Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs)?

Several drugs may be used as emergency contraceptive pills. They interfere with ovulation, among others. The ECP is not the same as an "abortion pill": It cannot stop a pregnancy that is already under way.

Where can I get ECPs?

In Canada, you can get the ECP at a pharmacy without having to see a doctor first. Talk to your pharmacist; most will dispense them after consulting with you first.

How soon after unprotected intercourse do I need to take ECPs?

ECPs should be administered as soon as possible, but it can be taken up to five days later and at any time during the menstrual cycle.

How many ECPs do I need to take to prevent pregnancy?

The ECP is usually administered in 1 or 2 doses, depending on the product used. Do not take any other contraceptive pills at the same time: additional pills won't further reduce your chances to be pregnant.

What about intrauterine devices (IUDs) as emergency contraception?

The intrauterine device can be useful as an emergency contraception method up to five days after unprotected sexual intercourse or within five days after the expected date of ovulation. IUDs have been found to be even more effective at reducing the risk of pregnancy than ECPs. The IUD must be inserted by a physician and can be removed immediately following the end of the next menstrual period or left in place as a form of contraception. IUDs, however, are not ideal for all women, especially not for teens.

What are the main side effects ?

The side effects vary depending on the drug used. The main ones are nausea, abdominal pain, headaches, fatigue and dizziness, among others. If vomiting occurs, contact your healthcare provider immediately; you may need to take another dose.

When will my next menstrual cycle start if I take the ECPs?

After taking ECPs, your menstrual cycle may be early or late. If you are more than one week late, be sure to take a pregnancy test or consult your doctor to find out whether you are pregnant.

What about birth control while I wait for my period to start?

The effect of ECPs only lasts a few days. A method of contraception should be used for the rest of your menstrual cycle. Consult your healthcare professional who can provide information about contraceptive choices available to you.

Note : Neither ECPs nor IUDs protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

For more information :

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada


Sex and U


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