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.
By Laura Beil
Christen Childs woke up on September 12, 2009, in the pitch dark of early morning with what she thought was a pulled muscle in her leg. She reached down to massage the cramp, trying to fathom how her left calf could be so achingly sore when she hadn't made it to the gym in weeks. This was a Saturday — by Monday, her leg was swollen and hot, and when she tried to stand, jolts of pain shot up to her spine. She consulted her brother-in-law, a doctor, and he told her to go to the ER immediately...
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 into the uterus -- also works as emergency contraception.
Research shows that Plan B One-Step starts to lose its effectiveness in women heavier than 165 pounds and is not recommend for anyone over this weight. Instead, a copper-releasing IUD
is the suggested option for emergency contraception in this group.
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. If you're 16 or younger, you need a prescription.