Keep Calm and Move on to Plan-B
“Take morning-after-pill,” seems to be a go-to sentence in many cases, and you probably heard it from a friend, boyfriend, or even you have said it to yourself or someone else. One magical pill to make the troubles go away – it does sound catchy and promising, doesn’t it? But what are these emergency contraception pills, how do they work in our body, and are they meant for everyone? Lastly, do they have any side effects that you need to be aware of or concerned about? These are the questions we want to answer here and give you honest, heart-to-heart explanation about everything you need to know regarding morning-after pills!
Hold on though! If you are overweight or have BMI of greater than 35 then the plan B or the morning after pill might not work for you. In fact, even if you take it the right way, you might still become pregnant.
The Copper IUD might be your best option and we have included all three options in this article with side effects of each.
What is emergency contraception?
Often the words emergency contraception, plan B or morning-after pills are used with the same meaning. The truth is, emergency contraception refers to methods of contraception that are used after sex with the sole purpose of preventing pregnancy; that being said, there are 2 methods of emergency contraception, IUDs (the copper-bearing intrauterine devices) and the emergency contraception pills.
Method I: The copper-bearing intrauterine devices – IUDs
A copper IUD can be used both as birth control or emergency contraception if it is inserted within 5 days after the unprotected sex; these are also one of the most effective methods of emergency contraception seeing that it offers 99.9% protection. The advantage is that it works regardless of your weight and afterward, if it stays in, it could be used as a birth control method for up to 10 years. This method needs to be done by professionals who will put it into your uterus.
Method II: Emergency contraception pills (plan B/morning-after pills)
The second, more common type is the emergency contraceptive pills, or also known as plan B, or morning-after pills; these are hormone pills that can be taken by women up to 3-5 days after having unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. It is recommended that you take these pills as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours of sex; some types work the best when taken within 72 hours, others can be taken up to 120 hours – however, studies showed that the sooner you take them, the better results/protection you will get. The main purpose of these pills is to prevent pregnancy for women who had unprotected sex (or in case their birth-control method fails.)
These should not be used as a primary form of birth control but rather as a second option, a backup – hence the name plan B.
Additionally, you also need to know that these pills do not protect you against sexually transmitted diseases and you should always consult your doctor and get yourself checked after unprotected sex.
What are the different types of emergency contraception pills?
In general, 3 types of emergency contraception pills are sold either with or without a prescription: birth control pills containing progesterone and estrogen, ulipristal pills and pills containing levonorgestrel.
Birth control pills that contain progesterone and estrogen often are used as emergency contraception by taking a higher dose of them, within 3-5 days. These need to be prescribed by a doctor, and although they work, they are typically less effective than other emergency contraception; additionally, their side effects (especially nausea) may be worse. This is the reason why they usually are not used as emergency contraception pills.
Ulipristal pills, also known as Ella, EllaOne is another emergency contraception that you need a prescription to get it. This pill does not use hormones, but ulipristal acetate – a substance that blocks the effects of your hormones. These are considered to be effective and according to their manufacturer, they can be used up to 5 days without the risk of lowering the chances for them to work. However, you need to consult a doctor before you consider taking them.
Pills containing levonorgestrel (Plan B One-Step, My way, Take Action, Preventeza, etc.) these pills contain levonorgestrel and typically they can be bought without a prescription unless you are under 17. However, we do highly suggest consulting a doctor before you buy them, even though you do not need a prescription. These pills can still work up to 5 days later, however, they do lose their effectiveness as time passes; moreover, they also lose their effectiveness in women who are overweight or obese. While Plan B One-step and My Way are one pill, others are two pills and you need to know the right dose, so make sure you check that with your pharmacist or doctor.
How do emergency contraception pills work?
Emergency contraception pills by preventing pregnancy by way of thickening, the cervical mucosa, thinning the uterus or stopping ovulation.
In the case with ulipristal (Ella) used as emergency contraception, a woman needs to take 30mg tablets within 5 days after sex. The way it works is, once it is taken it prevents the effects of progesterone and with that stops ovulation. It is considered to be more effective than the levonorgestrel pills and on the same safety level.
The second type of pills we mentioned, such as Plan B, or My Way, etc., contain levonorgestrel, (usually 1 pill of them contains 1.5 milligrams of levonorgestrel) and this substance is responsible for protecting you from pregnancy. According to Medline Plus, “Levonorgestrel is in a class of medications called progestins. It works by preventing the release of an egg from the ovary or preventing fertilization of the egg by sperm (male reproductive cells). It also may work by changing the lining of the uterus (womb) to prevent the development of a pregnancy.” Simply put, it works by either preventing/delaying ovulation or by interfering with the fertilization of an egg.
You also need to know that all of the emergency contraception pills (including plan B pills) are not the same with abortion (RU-486) pills, – meaning, they do not cause a miscarriage or abortion, and they won’t work if you are already pregnant when you take them. In case you are pregnant, you should not take these pills, instead, you should consult your doctor. How much you weight may also be a key factor and influence how effective these pills may be for you, so before you take them you should consult your doctor, to either change the dose or find another solution in case these pills do not offer enough protection for you.
What are the side effects of emergency contraception pills?
Like with all other pills, emergency contraception pills also have side effects, and some of them may be quite serious. Although many women have taken emergency contraception pills without serious complications or side effects, it is always best that you stay safe and contact a doctor before you decide to take them. Checking with a doctor is also important in making sure that any other medications you may be taking will not be ‘crashing’ with the emergency contraception pills and lowering their effects.
If you are using emergency contraception pills with levonorgestrel, the side effects may include:
o Breast pain or tenderness, even sore
o Changes in menstrual periods (longer or shorter)
o Abdominal or stomach pain.
Another side effect may include a delay in your period. However this delay should not be more than 1 week from regular, if it is longer, (or if you do not get your period within 3-4 weeks of taking the pill) you need to contact your doctor and check for pregnancy.
If you do get your period but you are bleeding/spotting for longer than a week and experience pain, you need to check with your doctor to see whether it is from your regular cycle or perhaps you are experiencing a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy (the fertilized egg is implanted outside the uterus).
In case you start experiencing severe pain in your abdominal area or stomach after taking the pill, you need to contact your doctor immediately.
Similarly, if you experience vomiting within 2 hours from taking the pill, you should also talk to your doctor to see if that is a side effect or not, and also to consult regarding whether you need to take another dose.
Some other medications such as felbamate, St. John’s wort, griseofulvin, carbamazepine, phenytoin, rifampin, etc., can make the emergency contraception pills less effective; therefore, you should consult a doctor or pharmacist to see if any medications you are taking may interfere with the pills, lower their effects or even extend their side effects.
If you are using Ella-ulipristal emergency contraception pills, the side effects are pretty much the same:
o Abdominal / stomach pain
o Pain during your cycle
Additionally, after using Ella, your period may also come a week later than usual. However, if you are not getting your period for 3-4 weeks after taking the pill, you need to check with the doctor and do pregnancy tests.
An allergic reaction such as rash, itching, or trouble breathing is extremely rare with this pill, however, if you are experiencing it, you need to contact your doctor instantly.
Although the list of side effects may scare you, you should know that most women do not experience any of these side effects. It is always best that you talk with your doctor regarding any contraception option, including emergency pills, and be honest regarding any therapies, medications you may take. If the doctor has prescribed you any of these emergency contraception pills, it is because she/he believes the benefit is greater than the side effects. That being said, you never know for sure how your body may react to any pill, so if you are experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms or any other symptom for that matter, please consult your doctor instantly.
If you slip up on your birth control or you were unprepared or uncertain any and intercourse situation Plan B is a viable option. However, if you are overweight there is a slight chance that it might not be as effective.