Did you just have an unprotected sexual relation? Whatever the reason – forgot to take your pill, the condom leaked or you did not use any contraception – Canadian women today have access to an option: the emergency contraceptive pill. In Quebec, you can get it from your pharmacist, a nurse in a CLSC or a doctor.
The emergency contraceptive pill (ECP, also called the morning-after pill) has been available to women who had unprotected sex for over 30 years.
The ECP does not induce an abortion, meaning it will not interrupt an ongoing pregnancy nor will it harm the foetus. It appears to have three mechanisms of action: it may delay ovulation, prevent fertilization of the egg or prevent implantation of the fertilized egg. For maximum efficacy, the ECP should be taken as soon as possible after having unprotected sex, ideally within 12 to 24 hours (90% effective). It can however be taken up to five days after having unprotected sex. There is no contraindication against taking the morning-after pill several times. Also, women who cannot take combined oral contraceptives (oestrogen and progesterone) due to a contraindication can use the morning-after pill because it does not contain any oestrogen. However, women with unexplained vaginal bleeding and those who know or strongly suspect they are pregnant should not take this pill. You’re on the pill but have forgotten to take a few? Here is what you should do.
If you forgot one pill, take it as soon as you think about it. This may mean that you’ll take to tablets in the same day.
Have you forgotten to take your pill on two consecutive days? If you’ve had your period during the last 14 days, you should take two pills as soon as you think about it and two pills the next day. If you had your period more than 14 days ago, you should discard your pill dispenser and start a new one. In both cases, you should use additional protection (e.g. condoms) for the next seven days and take the morning-after pill if you had sex in the last two days.
Remember that the pill is more effective when it’s taken at regular intervals. Associate taking it with a daily activity, such as brushing your teeth before going to bed, to help you take it at the same time each day.
In most women, the ECP usually causes no side effects, but some may experience nausea or vomiting. Headaches, fatigue, vertigo or breast sensitivity can also occur. In addition, your period can start either earlier or later than usual (up to one week). No dangerous effects have been associated with the ECP since its introduction 30 years ago. If you do not have your period within 3 weeks of taking the ECP, you should take a pregnancy test.
If more than five days have passed since you had unprotected sex, you still have an option: you can go to a hospital to have a copper intra-uterine device inserted. This device may prevent a pregnancy.
Remember that the morning-after pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. If you’ve had unprotected sex, you should see a doctor to get screened. While the ECP is an excellent tool against “accidents” it is not a reliable regular contraceptive option. Take this opportunity to assess your current use of contraception and talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you think you might need a change. They will help you find the method that best suits your lifestyle.