About emergency contraception
What is the morning after pill?
The morning after pill is a pill taken after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. It can be taken if you forget to use protection (such as a condom), or if your contraception fails. Both types of morning after pill (Levonorgestrel and ellaOne) work by stopping or delaying the release of an egg.
How does emergency contraception work?
Levonorgestrel is a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone hormone. Levonorgestrel primarily works by preventing the release of an egg (ovulation). However, it also increases the thickness of the mucus around the cervix. This can help by creating a barrier that is difficult for sperm to pass through.
ellaOne contains ulipristal acetate, which changes the way your body responds to the hormone progesterone. Ulipristal is thought to work mainly by preventing or delaying ovulation, depending on which stage of the menstrual cycle you're at.
How effective is the morning after pill?
The sooner you take Levonorgestrel or ellaOne after sex, the more effective it will be. Both are only effective if taken prior to ovulation. Ovulation is triggered by rising levels of the luteinising hormone (LH). After levels of LH begin to rise, Levonorgestrel is not as effective. ellaOne has been shown to continue being effective later in the cycle.
According to a 2017 review it is estimated that 1 to 2% of women who take ellaOne after unprotected sex will become pregnant. In comparison, it's estimated that 0.6 to 2.6% of women who take Levonogrestrel after unprotected sex will become pregnant.
How long after sex can you take the morning after pill?
Levonorgestrel (sometimes known as the branded Levonelle) must be taken within 72 hours (3 days) of unprotected sex.
ellaOne must be taken within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected sex.
Both pills are most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex.
Both Levonorgestrel and ellaOne can be taken more than once during your menstrual cycle.
Taking a double dose of the morning after pill
If you're prescribed Levonorgestrel as emergency contraception, you might be given two tablets instead of one. The standard Levonorgestrel dose is 1.5 milligrams. But some women might have to take a double dose (3mg Levonorgestrel) . This can be because of your weight (if you’re over 70kg), or if you’re taking certain medications. You can find out more here.
What are the potential side effect of the morning after pill?
As with all medicines, ellaOne and Levonorgestrel can cause some side effects. Neither medicine should affect your fertility in the long term.
The most common side effects for ellaOne include changes in mood, tiredness, headache, nausea (feeling sick)/vomiting, dizziness, period pains, pelvic/back pain, breast tenderness and abdominal (tummy) pain.
The most common side effects for Levonorgestrel include tiredness, headache, nausea (feeling sick), abdominal pain, and irregular bleeding.
What if I vomit after taking the morning after pill?
If you’re sick within 3 hours of taking the morning after pill you should contact your doctor. You will most likely need to take another morning after pill.
How many times can you take the morning after pill?
You can take the morning after pill more than once in a menstrual cycle. However, it’s important to remember it should not be used as a form of regular contraception. Find out more about contraception options.
Morning after pill for future use
If you want to avoid pregnancy and think there’s a chance you will have unprotected sex, you can buy the morning after pill for future use through our service.
The most important thing is that you take emergency contraception as soon as possible after you have had unprotected sex. In this respect, ordering in advance and having the pill to hand when you need it can be very helpful. However, you should not rely on the morning after pill as a method of routine contraception.
Find out more about the getting the morning after pill in advance here.
Can you get pregnant after taking the morning after pill?
In a small number of cases, the morning after pill is not effective and some women will become pregnant.
The morning after pill should not be used as a form of regular contraception. If you have unprotected sex after taking the morning after pill you will not be protected from further pregnancies.
Other forms of emergency contraception
The most effective form of emergency contraception is the copper coil, also known as an intrauterine device (IUD). This can be fitted by a trained medical professional up to 5 days after unprotected sex. Once fitted, it can remain in place for several years as routine contraception.
If you are thinking of opting for a coil, we recommend that you still take the morning after pill, just in case you can’t get a coil fitted in time.
Can you get the morning after pill for free?
You can get the morning after pill for free from:
- Sexual health clinics (find your local clinic here)
- Most GP surgeries
- Selected pharmacies – not all pharmacies offer this service for free, so it’s worth contacting your local pharmacy beforehand to check.
Can I buy the morning after pill online?
You can request and pay for emergency contraception online. Depending on the type you need, you may or may not need a prescription. However, you will always have to answer a series of questions before receiving the pill to make sure it is clinically suitable.
Our emergency contraception clinic
Request treatment and complete your emergency contraception questionnaire. We will recommend the treatment that is safe and suitable for you. Available for discreet collection in-store only.
Testing for STIs
Emergency contraception does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you have had sex without a condom you may have been exposed to an STI. Our confidential sexual health testing clinic provides advice, tests and treatments for a range of STIs, so you can put your mind at rest.
Alternatively, you could visit your local sexual health clinic or arrange to see your GP.
Doctor's emergency contraception advice
Choosing whether the morning after pill is the right option for you can be a difficult process. It often depends on how recently you had unprotected sex. We will recommend the most suitable treatment for your circumstances.
Once you have a prescription, we can answer any questions you may have. Alternatively, you can ask the pharmacist for advice in private when you go in-store to collect.