The Morning After Pill – for when you need plan B

Reviewed: May 7, 2021
Let's talk about emergency contraception

When contraception fails, we know that the morning after pill will always have our back, and as a form of emergency contraception, it’s something we can always rely on in times of need.

What is the morning after pill?

The morning after pill is used as emergency contraception and is taken after unprotected sex. It can also be used when a female is unsure if her contraception has worked, for example, if a pill is missed, or thinks a condom has split.

There are two types of morning after pills – Levonelle or ellaOne, which are also known more commonly as ‘plan b pill’ or if you want more of a classic, ’emergency contraception’.

It’s important to remember that an emergency contraceptive pill does not work as long term protection from pregnancy. If you take Levonelle or ellaOne they will continue to protect you if you have unprotected sex at any time after taking it and should only be used in an emergency. However if you need to take one more than once in a menstrual cycle, then you are able to do this.

How does the morning after pill work?

Levonelle contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic version of the natural hormone progesterone. It’s not known exactly how Levonelle works, but it’s thought to work primarily by preventing or delaying ovulation. It’s also thought to work by increasing the thickness of the mucus around the cervix, which helps to create a barrier for the sperm. To be fully effective, Levonelle must be taken within 72 hours (3 days) of intercourse to prevent pregnancy. The pill does not interfere with your regular method of contraception.

ellaOne contains ulipristal acetate, which stops progesterone working normally. This also works by stopping or delaying the release of an egg, depending on which stage of the menstrual cycle you’re at. ellaOne differs from Levonelle as it can be taken within 120 hours (5 days) of sex to prevent pregnancy, meaning it gives you slightly more time.

How effective is the morning after pill?

The sooner you take emergency contraception after sex, the more effective it will be, and both are only effective if taken prior to ovulation. Ovulation is triggered by rising levels of the luteinising hormone (LH). 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.

Is the morning after pill free?

 In the UK you can get emergency contraception for free, even if you’re under 16. However if you’re 16 or over, you are able to buy the emergency contraceptive pill from most pharmacies, in person or online, the cost normally differs, but it will be around £25 to £35.

Morning after pill side effects

 It’s reassuring to know that there are no serious or long term side effects after taking the morning after pill and neither pill should effect your fertility long term. However common side effects are:

ellaOne side effects:

  • Mood swings
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diziness
  • Period pains
  • Pelvic/back pain
  • Tender breasts
  • Abdominal pain

Levonelle side effects:

  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Irregular bleeding

You should seek medical attention if these symptoms don’t go away after a few days or if:

  • You think you might be pregnant
  • Your next period is more than 7 days late
  • Your period is shorter or lighter than usual
  • You have sudden pain in your lower tummy – in rare cases, a fertilised egg may have implanted outside the womb (ectopic pregnancy)

Seek medical attention if you’re sick within 2 hours of taking Levonelle or 3 hours of taking ellaOne, as you’ll need to take another dose.

Where to get the morning after pill?

The morning after pill is easily accessible in the UK and can be found in most contraception clinics, sexual health clinics, some GP surgeries, some young people’s clinics, most NHS walk-in centers. Click here to find your nearest sexual health clinic.

This guide was brought to you by The Lowdown. We are the world’s first contraception review platform, providing real-life experiences from thousands of reviews collected from our community of men and women.

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