If you had unprotected sex and don't want to get pregnant right now, you may want emergency contraception. Like other forms of birth control, emergency contraception stops you from getting pregnant. The difference is that you can take it after you had sex. Emergency contraception pills are different from drugs used to end a pregnancy.
Emergency contraception works well, but it's not a substitute for regular birth control. Regular birth control works better, has fewer side effects, and costs less. As the name suggests, emergency birth control is only for emergencies, not something to use all the time.
The birth control pill was a big hit when it went on sale in the early 1960s. Nearly 50 years later it's still one of the most popular methods of reversible birth control, with dozens of brands and formulations available.
And, as with any celebrity, half-truths and misconceptions have attached themselves to the pill. Perhaps none are more lingering than the myth that birth control pills can lead to weight gain.
What’s the truth about birth control pills and weight gain?
Most types are pills. Examples include Ella (ulipristal acetate) and Plan B One-Step (levonorgestrel.) You can also buy generic levonorgestrel pills, like My Way and Next Choice One Dose.
An IUD -- a small device that a doctor inserts in your uterus -- also works as emergency contraception.
How long after having sex will emergency contraception still work?
That depends. Plan B One-Step and generic levonorgestrel work best if you take them within 3 days after sex, but they may work up to 5 days after sex. Ella and the IUD can work up to 5 days after sex. However, those are only averages. What really matters is where you are in your cycle. If you have sex when you're fertile, waiting several days to take emergency contraception could be too late. That's why experts say you should use it as soon as possible after having sex.
Where can I get it?
Emergency contraception is available at drugstores, health departments, women's health centers, and hospitals. Depending on your age, you don’t need a prescription for most brands. You do need a prescription for Ella and some other types.
Can anyone buy over-the-counter emergency contraception pills?
In 2013, the FDA allowed pharmacies to sell one brand, Plan B One-Step, without a prescription, over-the-counter, without any age restrictions. But not all pharmacies are selling it that way yet.
Other types of over-the-counter emergency contraception, like My Way and Next Choice One Dose, have age restrictions. You need to have ID showing that you're 17 or older too. If you're 16 or younger, you need a prescription.
How much will it cost?
Prices vary from store to store. A survey found that the average cost for Plan B One-Step is $48. Generic levonorgestrel is a little cheaper at $42. But you might find prices that are much lower or higher. If you have insurance, prescription pills should cost less because you have to pay only the copay.
What are the side effects? Is it safe?
Emergency contraception is safe. Most people don't have any side effects from the pills. But you may have mild ones, like nausea, mild stomach pain, and headache. If you have severe nausea, your doctor may be able to give you medicine that helps. You may also have spotting, and your next period may come a few days earlier or later.