Unpredictable periods, forgotten dose of an oral contraceptive, or tearing or slippage of a condom can cause anxiety in a couple. Pregnancy is a potential outcome of any of these events. Emergency contraception, as the name implies, is meant to be used in any such unpredictable situations. Emergency contraception should not be used as a regular contraceptive. Knowing the correct and timely use of emergency contraception can help to combat fear of pregnancy in such unanticipated events.
About emergency contraception
Emergency contraception, also called emergency birth control or post coital contraception, is a method used to prevent a pregnancy after a woman has an unprotected sex or if the birth control method that the couple was using has failed. It is exercised by taking pills or by getting an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted. The pills are hormone pills containing levonorgestrel, a synthetic variant of a natural hormone produced in the body, and the device is a T shaped metal piece with a terminal thread that is placed into the womb through the birth canal. Normal birth control pills in higher dose can be used as emergency contraception.
Emergency contraceptive pills work by preventing the release of an egg from the female gonads, called the ovaries. In addition, these may prevent fertilization of the egg and prevent a fertilized egg from attaching and homing in the womb, a process called implantation. Emergency contraception is not effective if the process of implantation has occurred. Similarly the IUD prevents the egg from joining the sperm and thus prevents fertilization. It also prevents implantation. One or more of these effects may be obtained depending upon the stage of the menstrual cycle of the woman. The higher doses of hormones in the emergency contraceptives affect the hormonal milieu of the body. The short surge of hormones creates an unfavorable environment for pregnancy.
Using emergency contraception
Emergency contraception is best used immediately after or as early as possible after intercourse. It may be used preferably within 3 days, but no later than 5 days after intercourse. Conventionally, the emergency contraceptive pills are two pills each containing 0.75 mg of levonorgestrel, one taken immediately or as early as possible after intercourse and another pill to be taken after 12 hours. The two pills may also be taken in a single shot, i.e. either the two 0.75 mg tablets or a single tablet of 1.5 mg levonorgestrel. The latter single step emergency contraceptive pill is called ‘Plan B’. This is best taken immediately after intercourse and not later than 5 days.
You may use the usual birth control pills as emergency contraceptivesas opposed to the conventional emergency contraceptive pills. The oral contraceptive pills contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. Depending upon the strength of levonorgestrel, two or five oral contraceptive pills may be taken at one time. Always use the same brands for all doses. If you vomit within 2 hours of taking a dose, you should repeat the dose. An IUD is best inserted as soon as possible but within 5 days of intercourse. This is not available over-the-counter and the choiceof IUD should be discussed with the healthcare provider.. It can be removed after your next period or you may decide to retain it in the womb for continued regular contraception in future. This is an effective method of regular birth control and spacing between children that is used as an emergency contraception also. When used as emergency contraception, an IUD gives excellent results.
The earlier emergency contraception is adopted, the better are the results. An IUD reduces the risk of pregnancy by 99.9%. 1 in 100 women may become pregnant when using progestin-only pills for emergency contraception. 2 in 100 women may get pregnant when using pills containing both progestin and estrogens.
You may feel sick after emergency contraception. You may vomit or have a feeling of one. Headache, dizziness, and tiredness have been complained by women. Your breasts may be painful to touch, and you may feel pain and cramps in your belly. These may usually go away in a day or two and vary in intensity from one person to another. An IUD may transiently cause heavy periods.
When to use emergency contraception
Any woman of reproductive age can use emergency contraception if she fears getting pregnant when she does not desire to. It can be used when a contraception was either not used or is feared to have failed or been used incorrectly. This may happen if a condom breaks or slips, a diaphragm or cervical cap gets dislodged, an IUD expels by itself, or the male partner erroneously ejaculates in the birth canal or near it. Ejaculation near the birth canal may results in pregnancy as the sperms can swim up the birth canal to reach the egg to fertilize it. Women who have been taking hormonal contraceptives may go for emergency contraception, if they miss 3 or more consecutive doses of a combined pill, take a progesterone-only pill or minipill late by 3 hours or more, are late by more than 2 weeks for a progesterone-only contraceptive injection (depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate or norethisterone enanthate), or are more than 7 days late for a combined estrogen-plus-progesterone monthly injection. Anybody who limits sex to only the initial safe period of the monthly cycle and abstains in the later part may miscalculate or conceive due to a natural variation in the cycle. A sexual assault may result in an unprotected intercourse and is likely to result in a pregnancy.
Taking regular birth control again
You can start your regular birth control immediately after emergency contraception. If you use barrier contraceptives like condoms, diaphragms, or cervical caps, continue to use them. If you smear a sperm killing cream on these, do so even after emergency contraception. You should resort to your regular dosing of oral contraceptive pills or birth control pills or take your next scheduled dose of injectable contraceptive after emergency contraception. If you have had an IUD inserted for emergency contraception, you may not get it removed and retain it as an effective regular contraceptive.
After emergency contraception, your menstruation should start within 3 weeks. It may be delayed, may appear earlier, or may be heavier or lighter than a usual period. It may appear within 7 days of the expected date. If delayed beyond 3 weeks, you should go in for a pregnancy test to confirm if you are pregnant.
Purchasing emergency contraception
Look for emergency contraception at drugstores or with licensed pharmacists. Carry a proof of age when you go to get one. You can get one over-the-counter if you are 17 years or older. Younger teenagers can get it only on prescription.
Emergency contraception is also called morning after pill but this does not imply that it is to be taken only the next morning. The sooner it is taken after intercourse, the better. It prevents pregnancy so it is not to be mistaken for an abortion pill. It is also not to be used as a regular contraceptive. Emergency contraception does not protect against sexual transmitted diseases either.
Emergency contraception is a dependable approach to prevent pregnancy after an unprotected sex or a failed contraception. Though hugely effective, there is still a chance that you get pregnant. If you do not get your periods when expected or your pregnancy test is positive even after an emergency contraception. Emergency contraception does not harm a pregnancy or the baby. Talk to your doctor to discuss if you like to continue the pregnancy or abort it.
You needn’t fear pregnancy any longer as you feel more confident about correctly using emergency contraception, if the need arises for one.