What do I need to know about the morning after pill?

The morning after pill is emergency contraception you can use to prevent pregnancy up to five days after having unprotected sex or when contraception has failed. Here is what you need to know about how it works.

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When should it be taken?

There are two kinds of emergency contraceptive pill available in the UK: Levonelle, which must be taken within 72 hours of sex, and ellaOne, which must be taken within 120 hours. Both work by delaying or preventing ovulation.

NHS Choices states that these pills are effective at preventing pregnancy if they are used soon after unprotected sex; the sooner you take one, the more effective it will be.

Get tested

While the morning after pill can prevent pregnancy, it does not protect against STIs; therefore, you will need to be tested. If you are looking for STI testing in London, you can go online to order a free kit to test yourself at home from an organisation such as https://www.checkurself.org.uk/order-a-test-kit/.

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Where to get the morning after pill

You can get the morning after pill free from a GP, contraception clinic or sexual health clinic. You can also find it at most pharmacies, NHS walk-in centres and some A&E departments. You may be asked at what point in your menstrual cycle you had unprotected sex, the date of your last period, and for details of any medications you are taking that may affect your contraception.

How does it work?

Levonelle contains a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone, called levonorgestrel, which prevents or delays ovulation; meanwhile, ellaOne contains something called ulipristal acetate, which stops progesterone working normally. Both pills do not continue to protect against pregnancy, which means you can become pregnant if you have unprotected sex after taking them. They are not made to be used as regular contraception, although you can use them more than once in a menstrual cycle if necessary.

How will I feel?

The morning after pill can make a woman feel sick, dizzy or tired; in addition, it may lead to tender breasts and abdominal pain. If you are sick within two hours of taking it, you will need to get medical advice and take another dose. Taking Levonelle or ellaOne can mean your period comes earlier or later than usual, but there are no serious side effects.

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