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Emergency contraception

Published on May 10, 2024 at 8:00 / Updated on May 25, 2024 at 8:00

Emergency contraception can be taken to reduce the risk of an unintended pregnancy following intercourse. There are two types of emergency contraception: the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP), commonly known as the "morning after pill", and the copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Important: ECPs and IUDs do not offer any protection against sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs).

Contexts of use

Examples of situations for which emergency contraception may be considered:

  • Unprotected intercourse
  • Broken or slipped condom
  • Dislodged cervical cap or diaphragm
  • Expulsion or removal of IUD
  • One or more missed oral contraceptive pills
  • One missed progestin-only pill or more than 3 hours late taking the progestin-only pill (e.g. Jencycla, Maeve, Movisse)
  • Contraceptive patch off for more than 24 hours
  • Vaginal ring expelled or removed for more than 3 hours
  • Injectable contraceptive was or will be administered more than 2 weeks late
  • Sexual assault when no other method of birth control is used
  • Any other situation where the effectiveness of the method of contraception may be called into question

When traveling, women can carry ECP to prevent an unintended pregnancy, if needed. For more information on situations that could justify the use of emergency contraception, speak to your healthcare provider.

Emergency contraception pill (ECP) or "morning after pill"

ECPs are available without a prescription at local pharmacies or can be prescribed by a pharmacist. It is most effective when taken as soon as possible after having unprotected sex, but can be used up to 5 days after having sex. If it fails to prevent pregnancy, it will not harm the fetus.

An emergency contraception pill is preventive. It cannot interrupt an established pregnancy. Furthermore, it is more effective if used occasionally rather than as a regular birth control method.

Emergency contraception may, on occasion, cause nausea and vomiting. If needed, anti-nausea medicine can be taken before. However, if vomiting or diarrhea occurs after taking the ECP, contact your healthcare provider immediately, as another dose may be necessary.

Women are advised to use barrier contraception (e.g., condom) for at least 7 days after taking an ECP. If you take a hormonal contraceptive, speak to your pharmacist to find out when best to resume your contraceptive.

Lastly, if your period is more than one week late, or if you have still not had a period within 21 days of having taken the ECP, a pregnancy test should be taken.

Copper intrauterine device or IUD

A copper IUD is a non-hormonal contraceptive that must be inserted into the uterus by a doctor within 7 days of having unprotected intercourse. It can be left in place and used to provide ongoing and long-term birth control.

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