What are the side effects of the morning-after pill?
When your birth control fails or you've had unprotected sex, you may be wondering what you can do to help prevent pregnancy. If you want to reduce your chances of getting pregnant, you can use emergency contraception, including the morning-after pill. In this article, we'll review the possible side effects of taking levonorgestrel emergency contraceptives like our new morning-after pill, Restart™. Then, we’ll answer a few of the most commonly asked questions about the morning-after pill.
Common side effects of the morning-after pill
Side effects of taking the morning-after pill may vary from minor to severe. Some of the more commonly experienced side effects include:
- Cramps or abdominal pain
- Breast tenderness
- Short-term changes to your menstrual cycle (the absence of menstruation, lengthier periods, periods with a heavier flow)
- Fatigue or dizziness
- Mood changes (like anxiety)
- Water retention or weight gain
Some of the less common side effects include:
- Blood clots
- A skin rash
- Production of breast milk
- Hair loss or abnormal hair growth
- Acne or colored skin patches (yellow-brown)
- Difficulty sleeping
Commonly asked questions about the morning-after pill
Before taking any medication, it’s worth taking some time to learn about it. So, what do you need to know before taking an emergency contraceptive? Here's a few of the most asked questions about the morning-after pill.
How does the morning-after pill work?
The morning-after pill with the hormone levonorgestrel delays ovulation by preventing your egg from being released from the ovary. The risk of pregnancy is lowered significantly if an egg isn’t released so that it does not have a chance to be fertilized by sperm.
It’s recommended to take the contraceptive within three days of unprotected sex (approximately 72 hours). The earlier you take it after unprotected sex, the better. Efficacy may change the longer you wait. You can use the morning-after pill if:
- You had unprotected sex (or didn’t use birth control)
- A condom slipped off or broke
- You have reason to believe your regular birth control might not work (for example, you missed a few doses)
It's important to know that emergency contraception like the morning-after pill is not intended to be your regular method of birth control, so speak with your primary care provider about your contraceptive options.
Don’t use the morning-after pill if you’re allergic to any of its components or if you’re already pregnant. If you take the morning-after pill while pregnant, the contraceptive won’t work and it will not harm the existing pregnancy.
How effective is the morning-after pill? How safe is it?
Emergency contraceptives like the morning-after pill significantly reduce your chances of pregnancy after unprotected sex. Research suggests that they are safe and okay to use multiple times, even within the same menstrual cycle.
Keep in mind that the morning-after pill is not recommended to be used as your regular birth control method. There are birth control options that are more effective and better suited for regular use. One option is the Copper IUD which can be used as both emergency contraception and be left in place for regular birth control. However, there are several options you can choose from including:
- Daily birth control pills
- Skin patches
- Vaginal rings
- Quarterly injections (one every three months)
- Arm implants
- Hormonal levonorgestrel IUDs
The morning-after pill might not be as effective if you take certain medications. Other medical products or herbal supplements may reduce its efficacy can include:
- St. John’s wort
- Some HIV treatments
- Certain antibiotics
Always check with your pharmacist or primary care provider if you're concerned that the morning-after pill may not work for you.
Is cramping normal?
You may experience some cramping after taking the morning after pill; it’s one of the common side effects. However, severe cramps could be a sign of something more serious, like an underlying medical condition.
If you’re experiencing severe pain that you can’t manage with over-the-counter pain medication, get in touch with your primary care provider. Doing so is especially important if you experience moderate or severe vaginal bleeding alongside the pain; these two symptoms can be due to ectopic pregnancy.
How long can cramping last?
For most people, the effects of taking the morning after pill will be minor, short-term, and won’t need further medical attention. Severe lower abdominal pain that occurs three to five weeks after taking the morning-after pill may be due to an ectopic pregnancy, and you should get medical attention.
Can the morning-after pill affect fertility in a lasting way?
There’s no evidence that the morning-after pill and other emergency contraceptives affect future fertility. Emergency contraceptives temporarily delay ovulation to reduce the chances of pregnancy at the moment.
Where can I find the morning-after pill?
You can find the morning-after pill online or over-the-counter in most drugstores and pharmacies. You don’t need a prescription to get this type of morning-after pill.
Do I need to see my doctor after using the morning-after pill?
In most cases, you won’t need to follow up with your primary care provider after taking the morning-after pill. Get medical attention if you have heavy vaginal bleeding or severe abdominal pain.
What counts as heavy bleeding or severe pain?
If you have to change your sanitary product (like a pad, tampon, or menstrual cup) every one to two hours, you’re experiencing heavy vaginal bleeding. If you can’t manage the pain with ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain reliever, it’s severe enough to contact your doctor. These symptoms may be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy.
Emergency contraceptives reduce your chances of getting pregnant when you need them; however, you may want to explore other birth control options if you’re sexually active and want a regular pregnancy prevention method.
For more info on sex, reproductive health, and more, check out our content hub, Real Talk.