All the questions you had about the morning after pill, answered

Ally Head, Catriona Harvey-Jenner
·5-min read
Photo credit: olhakozachenko - Getty Images
Photo credit: olhakozachenko - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

Does alcohol affect the morning after pill? Can your weight impact how effective emergency contraception is? And do you have to take it within a certain window?

It's natural to have a lot of questions about taking the morning after pill. Although the NHS website shares that it has a rough 98 to 99% success rate, it can be daunting, even if you think you know everything you need to.

Whatever your query, hopefully we'll have it covered. Say you had unprotected sex and were drinking the night before. Can alcohol impact the pills success rate? Will you experience any irregular bleeding, and experience your period cycle as normal? And is there need for you to worry, or take extra precaution with?

One thing to point out here: there is absolutely no shame in having to take emergency contraception. We live in a country where it's a woman's choice to do what she wants with her body. The doctor or sexual health advisor in your appointment will reassure you of the exact same thing, so do make sure to just ask if you're feeling a little apprehensive or have any questions. That's what they are there for, after all - to help.

To save you any stresses, we spoke to a qualified professional to get the answers all in one place, once and for all. Here, sexual health and contraception expert Dr. Verity Sullivan dispels the myths and shares the emergency contraception truths every doctor wants you to know.

Keep reading.

Does alcohol affect the morning after pill? Plus 14 other need-to-knows

1. There are two types of morning after pill

There's Levonelle, which contains a hormone called Levonorgestrel, and EllaOne which contains Ulipristal Acetate, explains Dr Verity.

2. There's also a lesser known Copper Coil

This is more technically knows as the intrauterine device (IUD). According to Dr Verity, this is less commonly taken than the pill, and has two ways of preventing pregnancy. The copper is toxic to eggs and sperm, so it stops the egg being fertilised. In the eventuality that the egg has already been fertilised, it has an anti-implantation effect, stopping a fertilised egg from attaching to the womb lining and becoming a pregnancy.

According to the NHS website, it is a slightly more effective contraception method.

3. It's not the same as having an abortion

The idea is that the emergency contraception is taken or inserted with enough time to prevent the pregnancy from occurring in the first place. The morning after pills prevent or delay ovulation, so there's no egg there to be fertilised by your partner's sperm following unprotected sex.

4. There's a time limit for taking the morning after pill

You can take Levonelle up to 72 hours after sex and EllaOne up to 120 hours after. The sooner you can take it, the better, Dr Verity shares.

5. You can access them for free whatever your age

That is, it's available from most GPs, sexual health or family planning clinic and certain pharmacies.

Alternatively, you could buy them from some pharmacies for around £35 (it's not cheap). You'll only be given it after speaking to a trained pharmacist who will ensure it's safe to give and to check that they are giving you the right dose. Some women who take certain medications, for example, may need to take a double dose of Levonelle. It can also be bought online, where you have to answer the relevant questions online.

Photo credit: borgogniels - Getty Images
Photo credit: borgogniels - Getty Images

6. You don't need to feel embarrassed

It's totally normal to feel a bit awkward speaking to a stranger about your sex life, Dr Verity stresses. But we've heard it all before and we'll do our best to make you feel comfortable, she adds.

7. There can be side effects occasionally

But, most women have no problems. A more common side effect is that your next period can be irregular, but if you've not had a period within three weeks of using emergency contraception, you should do a pregnancy test.

8. You'll need to take it again if you vomit within 3 hours of taking it

You should always seek advice if you become ill, as it may not have been absorbed into your system properly and therefore may not be effective, Dr Verity shares.

9. You can drink alcohol

Wondering, does alcohol affect the morning after pill? Not according to Dr Verity, no. You can drink alcohol before or after taking the morning after pill, she shares, and this won't effect how well it works.

10. Weight can have an impact on the effectiveness

Guidance that's been released by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health Care (FSRH) advises that the effectiveness of oral emergency contraception could be reduced if a woman weighs over 70kg. The producers of ellaOne have confirmed that their morning after pill continues to work even in women who weigh more than 70kg.

Levonelle, on the other hand, to appears to have reduced effect in women weighing more than that according to the faculty guidance.

11. There's no limit to how many times you can take the morning after pill

That is, there's no limit during your lifetime per se. Both pills are very safe to use, but if you're taking it frequently, it may be time to think about your long-term contraception options.

12. The morning after pill isn't guaranteed to work

Whilst both Levonelle and EllaOne can be very effective, it's important to know: they do not work every time.

13. Neither give you any future protection from unprotected sex

So if you have unprotected sex again shortly after taking the morning-after pill, that's a separate pregnancy risk. You'll need to consult a medical expert again.

14. In contrast, the IUD is over 99% effective

It can be kept in as your long-term contraception, for up to 10 years.

15. Emergency contraception doesn't protect you against STIs

So you'll need a sexual health screen to check for STIs and any sexual health issues. Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea can take up to two weeks to show up on tests, with HIV and Syphilis taking up to one month.

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