Help & Advice

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception is a method of preventing unwanted pregnancy in any woman of reproductive age soon after unprotected vaginal intercourse.  There are two treatments used, the coil (IUD) and the morning after pill.

When should I use Emergency Contraception?

Use of an emergency contraceptive is appropriate in several situations following sexual intercourse:

  • After unprotected sex
  • Contraception failure (broken condom or taking your pill during a bout of diarrhoea)
  • Contraception misuse (missed dose of contraceptive, such as the pill, during the allotted time frame for its effectiveness)

What is the Morning After Pill?

The morning after, or emergency contraceptive, pill is an oral tablet that works by preventing or delaying ovulation and is most effective when used as soon as possible after sex.  It is available in two forms:

  • Levonelle (levonorgestrel) is a progestogen-only emergency contraceptive
    • Most effective within 3 days of sex
    • Estimated to be 95% effective within 24 hours of unprotected sex, 85% within 25-48 hours and 58% within 49-72 hours
    • Can be used more than once in a cycle if appropriate as one dose will not provide protection against intercourse that follows treatment
    • Women can continue oral contraceptive use 12 hours after a dose of Levonelle but will require an additional form of contraception for 3-9 days depending on the type of birth control used
    • Safe in breast feeding
  • EllaOne (ulipristal acetate) is a selective progesterone receptor modulator  (SPRM) that can delay ovulation quite late in the process, just before the luteinising hormone (LH) peak. It:
    • Can be taken up to 5 days after sex
    • Is as effective as Levonelle
    • Should not be used more than one time per cycle
    • Will require an additional contraceptive for 9-16 days depending on the contraceptive used
    • Should not be used if breast feeding
    • Should not be used in women with severe asthma

The following information is applicable to both Levonelle and EllaOne:

  • Failure could occur if they are taken after ovulation or upon subsequent unprotected sex in the same cycle
  • Although not recommended to be taken in pregnancy, there is no evidence that they will affect an existing pregnancy
  • Certain drugs may decrease their effectiveness so check with a health care professional if you take other medications
  • Stomach upset and vomiting can be a side effect.   Another dose is required if vomiting occurs within 2 hours of taking Levonelle or 3 hours of taking EllaOne
  • They DO NOT protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Both can make your period earlier or later than expected

What is an IUD?

A copper intrauterine device (IUD or coil) is a device that may be inserted by a healthcare professional within 5 days of sex or 5 days after a woman’s expected ovulation date. An IUD:

  • Works by stopping fertilisation (by damaging sperm and egg) and implantation
  • Is more effective (99.9%) than either emergency contraceptive pill but not as popular because it is not as easily obtained and is more invasive
  • Can be used as a long-term contraceptive unlike the other means of emergency contraception
  • Can cause periods to be longer, heavier or more painful if this method is used as ongoing birth control
  • Is not for those with an untreated STI or pelvic infection
  • Will not react with any medications