What's all the mystery behind the morning after pill?

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Like all things medical, we normally associate certain dos and don'ts with the morning after pill. Here we've demystified the glorious pill for you...

If you are reading this post, you’ve either just had an ‘accident’ or… umm… there is no ‘or’, is there? Before pressing the panic button, let us just say there is a reason emergency birth control or the morning after pill exists – courtesy harmless (mostly harmless) accidents! What's more, did you know, these pills can be used to prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after unprotected sex? Read on for all that there's to know on the morning after pill.

Morning after pill? What’s that?

A woman might need emergency contraception or a morning after pill to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if her contraceptive method has failed. The reasons could be various, ranging from a split condom or missing her regular oral contraceptive pill.

But morning after pill is not ‘The Only’ emergency contraception option available (like Copper-T or intrauterine device is one of the other options).

And just because it is called the 'morning after pill', doesn’t mean you have to wait until the morning after sex to take it. In fact, the pill is more effective the sooner you take it and is a one-dose regimen.

Who can take the morning after pill?

Most women, over the age of 16, can use the emergency contraceptive pill. This includes women who cannot usually use hormonal contraception, such as the regular contraceptive pill or the contraceptive patch.

Generally speaking, you shouldn't use contraceptives that use combined hormones or CHCs (oestrogen and progestogen) in the first six months after birth, because it may reduce your milk supply. Other types of contraception that don't contain oestrogen are usually recommended if you're breastfeeding, which can be decided upon post consulting your doctor.

How soon must I take the pill?

“Morning after pill should be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse or failed contraception. Of course, it is more effective the sooner it is taken after intercourse,” states Dr Satyamvada Pandey, obstetrics & gynaecology, from The Calcutta Medical Research Institute, Kolkata.

As you may know, pregnancy doesn't happen right after intercourse, which makes it possible to prevent pregnancy even after the act. It takes approximately six days for the sperm and egg to meet after having sex. Of course, the more you delay popping the emergency contraceptive pill post sex, the lesser its effectiveness.

How does the morning after pill work?

The woman cannot get pregnant if there is no sperm to fertilise the egg. Emergency contraception pills work by keeping her ovary from releasing an egg for longer than usual.

Again, the situation may vary from woman to woman, as what matters is where she is in her own cycle (if a woman is about to ovulate, she may risk pregnancy if she waits for longer to take the emergency pill).

There are certain pills in the market that work closer to the time of ovulation compared to certain others which may not work if you are too close to ovulation or have already ovulated. The best bet in such a  case is to consult a gynaecologist at the earliest.

How safe is the morning after pill?

Emergency contraception pills have been in the market for quite some time now and has been used by a large number of women. While no major health complications have been reported yet, Dr Pandey says, “There are certain side effects of the morning after pill like nausea, vomiting, menstrual irregularities, dizziness, diarrhea, and/or breast tenderness.”

However, you have to be wary of popping in the pill if you’ve earlier faced an allergy to the pill, acute porphyria, severe liver disease or severe malabsorption syndromes. “Women also need to be informed about risks of ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus) despite taking the morning after pill,” adds Dr Pandey.

Are there any disadvantages of popping the pill?

As aforementioned, serious complications are mostly unheard of. However, the disadvantages could be in terms of:

  • an earlier or later, heavier or lighter period than usual
  • breast tenderness
  • dizziness, or headaches
  • nausea or vomiting

If you vomit within the first couple of hours of popping the pill, it won't be effective and you will have to take it again.

Will morning after pill make me infertile for life?

While using the emergency contraceptive pill often can unsettle your natural menstrual cycle, it cannot make you infertile. Just do not consume them as a form of regular contraceptive pill. Remember, these are not intended as regular forms of contraception.

If you are looking for a fixed contraceptive, there are many options available in the market like the Ipill, unwanted 72 and ECEE. Consult your doctor to help you figure out which one works best for you.

Also, the morning after pill must not be mistaken with an abortion pill. Since emergency contraception pills work by keeping the ovary from releasing an egg for longer than usual, the case of pregnancy doesn’t arise. Abortion is a way to end pregnancy and can only take place once the fertilised egg has implanted in the womb.

What should I be wary of?

The only thing you need to keep in mind is that it’s an ‘emergency’ pill, and not something to be popped in on a regular basis. Firstly it should not be misused for regular use as an ongoing contraceptive method because of the higher possibility of failure compared with regular contraceptives. The failure rate is much higher (1.1% -2.6% after a single unprotected sexual intercourse despite morning after pill), as per Dr Pandey.

Secondly, emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted disease. You may want to consider getting tested if there is a possibility of unprotected sex putting you at risk.

All in all, if you aren’t planning to get pregnant, ensure that you plan your contraceptive methods well in advance, after discussing with your gynaecologist. Rely on morning after pill in case of emergency alone.

This is just an informative article and the readers must use their discretion before acting based on it. 

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Written by

Divya Nair