How to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or birth control failure
There are multiple ways to prevent pregnancy when your birth control method fails or you’ve had unprotected sex, and knowing your options can help you determine which method is right for you.
In this article, we’ll review the variety of preventative measures you can take to prevent pregnancy if your birth control method failed or if you had unprotected sex.
How do I prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex?
The morning-after pill and non-hormonal copper IUD are the two main types of emergency contraception, which are used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. The morning after pill either contains levonorgestrel (like PlanB One-Step, MyWay, and others) or ulipristal acetate (sold under the brand, Ella). You can get levonorgestrel over-the-counter at most pharmacies and drugstores. To get Ella, you need a prescription from a doctor or physician. For the copper IUD, you have to make an appointment with an OBYGN to have the IUD placed.
As a reminder, unprotected sex (vaginal, anal, and oral sex without a condom) can also increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections. Make sure you and your partner(s) get tested regularly.
What is the morning-after pill, and how does it work?
The morning-after pill is a form of emergency contraception, which is not intended to be used as everyday birth control. With 2 different types of morning-after pills, you have options for how you want to prevent pregnancy.
The levonorgestrel pill sold under brand names including Plan B One-Step, My Way, AfterPill, and more is the most recognizable and accessible morning-after pill since it is available without a prescription. These pills delay ovulation, reducing the chances of fertilization and pregnancy. You can use it if you have unprotected sex for any reason, including:
- An irregularity with your usual birth control method (such as forgotten pills or patches, or your IUD falls out)
- A condom or diaphragm breaking or moving out of place
- You have another reason to think your birth control didn’t work
- Being forced or manipulated into having unprotected sex
Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, headache, and abdominal pain. Your next menstrual cycle might have a different flow, duration, and timing. It is important to know that if you have any serious side effects after taking this pill, like fever, chills, or vomiting, to seek medical care right away.
What are the alternatives to the morning-after pill?
Emergency contraception containing levonorgestrel can usually be found over-the-counter without a prescription at a local pharmacy, drugstore, or superstore. Ella is an emergency contraceptive pill that requires a prescription, and it may be more effective than levonorgestrel for women between 155-195 pounds. Copper IUDs are also another alternative that can prevent fertilization after unprotected sex.
Which method of emergency contraception is easiest to buy?
Morning-after pills containing levonorgestrel, such as PlanB One-Step, are the easiest to get after unprotected sex because you can get it online or over-the-counter at most pharmacies without a prescription from a doctor. If you decide to get the copper IUD inserted as an emergency contraceptive, it’s important to note that you may experience difficulty getting an appointment with an OBGYN within five days of having unprotected sex.
Speak with your primary care provider if you have questions or concerns about which form of emergency contraception is best in your situation. Factors that may influence this decision include any medications you take, your weight, and general health.
When is it too late to take the morning-after pill?
Take emergency contraception within five days of unprotected sex, ideally as soon as possible. A fertilized egg will stay in the fallopian tubes for 3-4 days before reaching the uterus. It will then attach to the lining of the uterus during implantation. At this point, the morning-after pill will most likely be ineffective. It is designed to prevent pregnancy and will not abort an existing pregnancy. Once pregnancy is confirmed, you can explore abortion options with your OBGYN.
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