It’s been 30 years since the morning after pill first became available in the UK. With three decades of emergency contraception under our belts, you’d think we’d be pretty clued up on it by now, but that’s not the case according to a survey conducted by the Family Planning Association!1
This investigation revealed that while over a third of respondents had unprotected sex when not planning a pregnancy, 83% of these women did not use any emergency contraception afterwards. What’s more, 74% of women said that they knew little to nothing about emergency contraception, with a further 43% of women reporting that they did not know how to get hold of emergency contraception. Read our summary to find out everything you need to know.
Overcome the stigma
Historically, emergency contraception has come with a stigma attached. Many assume it indicates that you have been somehow irresponsible, whereas in reality condoms can slip off or split, and it’s easy to forget to take your oral contraceptive, especially if you’ve had a change of routine lately.
There is no space for shame and embarrassment in this situation, keeping a level head is important to think rationally and to take action quickly. Take a look at our simple guide and you’ll be in the know if ever you or a friend needs to take emergency contraception.
So what exactly is the morning after pill?
A very good question! Although this is a very widely used term, there’s some confusion surrounding exactly what it means. It’s often wrongly assumed that this pill is only effective for up to 24 hours, but that’s not the case. In reality there are a variety of options that are effective for as long as five days.
At LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, we use the phrase ‘morning after pill’ because we know that’s what most women will search for on our website, but it’s important to understand that it is definitely not just for the ‘morning after’, and that there are other options available. Let us break them down for you.
The most effective option
The most effective form of emergency contraception isn’t actually a pill at all. The intrauterine device (IUD) or ‘coil’ is a small, T-shaped device fitted into a woman’s uterus, and it’s 99.9% effective for up to five days after unprotected sex.2 The only downside is that it has to be fitted by a GP or your local sexual health clinic, so it’s more time-consuming than picking up a pill from a pharmacy or clinic.
The advantage of the IUD is that it can be left in place to provide regular long-term protection for between five to ten years—unless you decide to have it removed earlier, of course. At this point your fertility will return to normal very quickly.
Are there any side-effects?
Although a small number of women find that the IUD causes pain and vaginal bleeding, most women experience no discomfort at all. Periods may be slightly heavier for the first few months, but this tends to improve over time.
Is the IUD safe?
The IUD is very safe. It won’t interact with any other medication you may be taking, making it suitable for most women. Certain patients may not be able to have an IUD fitted, such as those who have an untreated sexually transmitted infection (STI), problems with their womb or cervix, or experience any unexplained bleeding between periods or after sex.
Where can I get the IUD?
The IUD has to be fitted by a trained healthcare professional, which means that you can only get a IUD from your GP or local sexual health clinic.
Morning After Pills
There are a number of oral emergency contraceptives available. This is Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC), and it can be used at any time of the day or night. It’s most effective when used as soon as possible after unprotected sex, but it can be effective for up to five days after sex, depending on the particular type of EHC used.
There are two pill forms of EHC available—Levonelle and EllaOne. Levonelle releases a synthetic version of the natural hormone progesterone, and EllaOne contains ulipristal acetate, which stops progesterone working normally. Both work to stop or delay ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries).3
Levonelle is most effective if taken within 12 hours, 95% effective within 24 hours, but only 58% effective 72hrs (three days) after unprotected sex. EllaOne, on the other hand, is up to 95% effective for five days. Try not to leave it too late though. If you experience any early vomiting that stops you from absorbing the treatment from your stomach, you’ll need time to take another dose.
While the effectiveness of EHC is high, it is still not as effective as using regular forms of contraception, so it should never be used as a substitute for routine contraception. You should also bear in mind that there are some medicines, including herbal pills, which may interact with and make EHC less effective.
If you do decide to use this form of emergency contraception, you don’t need to worry about deciding which one to ask for. After a quick and easy consultation with the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor service, our clinicians will suggest the most suitable treatment for you.
Are there any side-effects?
Most women don’t experience any side-effects when they take EHC. However, it is possible that you’ll experience any of the following: irregular menstrual bleeding, headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting and, depending on the particular treatment, abdominal pain, tiredness or breast tenderness
Is EHC safe to take?
Whenever you have a consultation with a pharmacist or doctor, including the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, you’ll be asked for your medical history. This is to make absolutely certain that it would be safe and effective for you to take the treatment. So rest assured—you’re in very good hands!
There’s no need to worry about fertility, either. Taking EHC will have no long-term effects on your fertility, meaning it won’t affect your ability to start a family in the future.
Where can I find EHC?
Emergency Hormonal Contraception is widely and easily accessible through your GP, sexual health clinic and local pharmacies. What’s more, if you book a confidential online consultation with LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, they may be able to arrange for you to collect EHC from a LloydsPharmacy on the very same day. Visit the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor Emergency Contraception Clinic to find out more.
Watch out for STIs!
It’s worth noting that as well as the risk of an unplanned pregnancy, unprotected sex also exposes you to STIs. Neither the morning after pill (EHC) or an IUD will provide any protection whatsoever against STIs. If you’re at all unsure about the sexual history of your partner, you should get yourself tested.
It’s easier than ever to get screened for an STI. You can pop into your local sexual health clinic or head to your GP. You can also order a home testing kit through Lloyds Pharmacy Online Doctor’s Sexual Health Clinic. Just bear in mind that you may need to wait a few more days before a test can pick up the signs of an infection.
Looking for a no-nonsense summary?
We’ve teamed up with popular YouTube vlogger Hannah Witton to tell you everything you need to know about emergency contraception. Check out our video: The morning after pill video by Hannah Witton
- FPA – https://www.fpa.org.uk/sites/default/files/sexual-health-week-2014-emergency-contraception-survey-results.pdf
- NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/news/medication/emergency-contraception-coil-999-effective
- NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/emergency-contraception/