How many times can you take the morning-after pill?
Emergency contraception is available in multiple forms with each type working somewhat differently from one another. Typically, the term ‘morning-after pill’ refers to medication containing the hormone levonorgestrel. The morning-after pill available without a prescription is just one of the emergency contraceptive options, and other types may vary in effect. We’ll discuss some of the commonly asked questions about using the morning-after pill, such as how much to take, when to take it, the common side effects, and how future pregnancies are affected.
How many times can you take the morning-after pill?
Although there isn’t a strict limit to how many times you can use the morning-after pill, it’s not recommended that you use emergency contraceptives as your regular method of birth control. If you want to reduce the chances of pregnancy, effective birth control methods include:
- A hormonal or copper IUD
- Condoms and other barrier contraceptives
- The ring or patch
- The pill
- The Depo-Provera shot
- The arm implant
Possible reasons for using the morning-after pill or other forms of emergency contraception include:
- A condom breaking
- Your partner didn't pull out in time
- A diaphragm moving out of place
- Forgetting to take your regular birth control sometime since your last period
- Being forced or manipulated into unprotected sex
- Your usual birth control method isn’t working for another reason
How often can you take the morning-after pill?
You can take the morning-after pill as frequently as necessary, but it’s not the most effective form of birth control and can disrupt your menstrual cycle. If you find yourself using it (or another type of emergency contraceptive) frequently, it may be a good idea to consider other forms of birth control that you can use on a regular basis to prevent pregnancy. Reach out to your primary care provider to discuss your options.
If you have unprotected sex multiple times within a day, you still only need to take one dose of the morning-after pill. However, the non-prescription morning-after pill isn’t long-lasting. If you have unprotected sex more than a day after taking the morning-after pill, you may want to take another pill or reach out to your primary care provider to talk about next steps. It’s also important to know that taking a double dose will not make the emergency contraceptive more effective at preventing pregnancy.
What are the short- and long-term side effects of taking the morning-after pill?
Generally, the morning-after pill — and emergency contraception more broadly — is considered safe, but you may experience short-term side effects. These can include menstrual changes, abdominal pain, breast tenderness, nausea, fatigue, or headache. You might experience menstrual changes, such as irregular bleeding and a delayed period (by a few days). The morning-after pill is not commonly associated with medical complications or other long-term side effects. However, the morning-after pill isn’t suitable for everyone. The morning-after pill is not recommended for you if:
- You suspect you may be pregnant or have confirmation that you are pregnant
- You’re currently experiencing, or have recently experienced, undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding
- You’re sensitive or allergic to any ingredients in the pill
- You’re taking other medications that may make the emergency contraceptive less effective
Does the morning-after pill impact your ability to get pregnant in the future?
The morning-after pill prevents pregnancy in the short term by preventing or delaying ovulation. It’s recommended to be used within 3 days of unprotected sex, and the pill is more effective the sooner you take it.
There is no evidence that it will make it harder for you to get pregnant in the future, and it will not end a current pregnancy. All forms of emergency contraception — the morning-after pill that’s available without a prescription, the prescription morning-after pill (sold under the brand ella®), and the copper IUD — won’t increase your risk of infertility.
The morning-after pill also will not protect you from sexually transmitted infections (that may, in turn, impact your fertility). Barrier contraceptive methods, including condoms and diaphragms, may help prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. You can also test regularly to help you diagnose and manage problems in a timely way.
What are other emergency contraception methods?
If you want to explore emergency contraceptive options other than levonorgestrel morning-after pills, there are two other methods of emergency contraception to consider.
The prescription morning-after pill (Ulipristal acetate)
Like the non-prescription morning-after pill, ulipristal acetate (sold under the brand ella®) can suppress or delay ovulation, but it’s only available by prescription. Take ella® within five days of unprotected sex. It’s important to know that ella® is most effective if you weigh under 195 lbs. If you weigh more than 195 lbs, you can theoretically still use ella®, but it may not be as effective. The are other options to consider if you are outside of this weight range.
The copper IUD
The copper IUD might be more effective than other forms of emergency contraception for those who are of higher weight (over 195 lbs or have a BMI of 30 or higher), and it’s the only type of emergency contraception that can also be considered for regular birth control by the medical field. Unlike levonorgestrel or ella®, a medical professional needs to insert the IUD. You can have the copper IUD inserted up to 7 days after unprotected sex.
The various types of emergency contraceptives may affect you in different ways. Consider discussing your contraceptive options with your primary care provider to find the best solution.
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