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Plan B: What Is Emergency Contraception? How Does The Morning After Pill Work?

Unprotected sex can be scary for a number of reasons, and the simplest way of avoiding those reasons is by using primary contraception, aka, condoms, while having sex. But if you didn’t or the condom broke (yikes!), then instead of freaking out, the first thing you need to do is turn towards emergency contraception or morning after pills.

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How does the morning after pill work? A question that our experts dealing with unwanted pregnancy are frequently asked. Today, we plan to discuss this very question at length to help you with the doubts that you have. We have for you the scoop on every single thing you should know about morning after pills.

Suggested read: How Effective Is A Morning After Pill? Let’s Find Out

Let’s begin with what EC pills are, in the first place. Morning after pills or Emergency birth control pills are a mode of contraception, that allows you to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The morning after pill contains one of the two constituents: Levonorgestrel (E.g. Plan B One-Step) or Ulipristal Acetate (E.g. Ella). So, to make things simpler, we can say there are mainly 2 types of morning after pills, namely the Plan B and Ella. Plan B is more common than Ella, though Ella is more effective than Plan B. However, Ella effectiveness depends a lot on the weight of the person taking the pills. For overweight women, Ella might not work as effectively as is expected from it.

While Ella cannot be bought without a prescription, Plan B is available in any drugstore, without a doctor’s prescription or note.

How does the morning after pill work

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Emergency contraception or the morning after pill works by stopping the release of eggs from the ovaries. Usually it takes about six days for the sperm to meet the egg, and EC pills by preventing the release of the egg from the ovaries, makes it impossible for the sperm to meet it, thus preventing conception.

You need to know, if you don’t already, that morning after pills are NOT THE SAME THING AS ABORTION. EC pills prevent conception, and not end an existing pregnancy. You should not mistake Plan B One Step with RU-486 however. RU-486 causes an abortion. Plan B One Step does not cause an abortion or even a miscarriage. It does not work if one is already pregnant, or to put it more specifically, an emergency contraception pill will not work on a fertilized egg implanted in the uterus. It cannot inhibit the development of a fetus.

When should one take the morning after pill

For the morning after pill to be effective, it is recommended you take it within three days of having sex. The effectiveness of Plan B is 75 to 90 per cent if taken within the first 72 hours. If taken within 5 days of having unprotected sex, Ella is 85 per cent effective in preventing conception.

Using a copper Intrauterine device or IUD, which should be implanted within 120 hours of having sex to avoid conception.

How to take the morning after pill

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To understand that, let’s again go over how the Emergency Contraceptive pills work. An EC pill is prepared with the non-natural variety of progestin, which is a hormone that prevents the ovary from releasing the egg. This synthetic element is called levonorgestrel.

The effectiveness of the morning after pill depends a lot on where you stand on your menstrual cycle. If you are very close to ovulating or just ovulated recently, then the effectiveness of the pill will be affected.

Where can one purchase a morning after pill

Emergency contraception pills can be availed at a doctor’s office. You can even get them at health clinics and at drug stores. For Plan B you generally do not require a prescription, but for Ella you will have to consult a doctor or a health care provider first, and then avail the drug.

Taking the pill

The morning after pills are generally single dose medicines. But for different brands, the dosage might be different. That is why it is recommended you visit a doctor or a health care provider first. This way, you will not only get a prescription, but will also know the correct dosage, which is vital for the pills to be effective. If you are taking Plan B, then just follow the instructions on the bottle for correct dosage.

Also, remember to take your pill with water. You should not swallow the pill just like that. Morning pill can be very nauseating, and we will get to that, but to prevent nausea or to at least decrease chances, you should take it with your food.

If you still have questions regarding the pills, then you can ask the pharmacist to help you.

Side effects of morning after pills


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The minor side effects of a morning after pill, which only last a few days, are:

  • Motion sickness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Giddiness
  • Exhaustion
  • Headache
  • Breast soreness
  • Heavier menstrual bleeding
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Cramps

Suggested read: Side Effects Of The Morning After Pills That No One Tells You About


Also, your next period is going to be few and far between or too frequent. This is because the Emergency Contraception pills impede our hormones and this results in irregular ovulation.

Your period might also be heavier than before or lighter than before.

After you take the pill, you need to look for signs indicating pregnancy because though morning after pills are very effective, you cannot be cent percent sure that you will not get pregnant.

Signs of pregnancy

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  • Missing your periods
  • Continued dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Tenderness or soreness in breasts
  • Exhaustion
  • Repugnance to aroma of food or any other strong flavor

You need to schedule a test at home or at your doctor’s to see if you are actually pregnant. The test will look at the levels of hCG hormone. This hormone usually increases when an egg that is fertilized by the sperm gets attached to the uterus.

Which morning after pill should one go for

Single-dose progestin pills

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Single-dose levonogestrel emergency contraception pills, such as Plan B One Step, My Way and Next Choice One Dose, prevent an unwanted pregnancy by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary.

You can buy these pills over the counter at your neighborhood pharmacy. You may even acquire these morning after pills through the doctor’s.

The effectiveness of these pills depends on how quickly you take them after sex. If taken within the first three days of unprotected sex, the pills are most effective. You may even take them within 5 days of unprotected sex, but expect the effectiveness to be lowered.

The single-dose progestin only pills will work most effectively for women who have a BMI of 25 or below. For those with BMI above 30, Plan B might not work in preventing unwanted pregnancy.

Taking the one dose emergency contraception pills bring some changes to your menstrual cycle. You can expect your next period to occur earlier or later. The blood flow also might be altered, that is, it might be heavier or lighter than before.

The other side effects of Plan B include nausea as well as cramping in the lower abdominal area. You might even feel a soreness in your breasts, dizziness and the impulse to vomit.

Two-dose levonorgestrel pills

To prevent an unwanted pregnancy, you need to take two tablets of this pill for the dose to be of use, hence the name.

You should take a pill immediately after unprotected sex, and the next one should follow twelve hours later.

You can avail this pill at your neighborhood pharmacy.

The side effects of these pills are similar to the ones discussed for one-dose levonorgestrel pills.


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Ulipristal acetate or Ella is also a single-dose pill. This is, however, more effective than the singe-dose levonorgestrel pills. If taken within the first five days of unprotected sex, Ella’s success rate when it comes to preventing unwanted pregnancy is higher. But the whole idea of taking the pill as soon as possible for it to be more beneficial, applies to Ella as well.

The effectiveness of Ella depends largely on where you stand on your menstrual cycle. If when you took the pill you were about to ovulate or had recently ovulated, then the usefulness of the pill is sure to be lowered.

Ella works by delaying the release of the egg from the ovary. The pill postpones the release by up to 5 days, and the sperm cannot survive so many days. So when the egg is finally produced, there is no sperm to fertilize it, and this prevents pregnancy.

While progestin only pills are not suited for women over BMI 25, Ella works effectively for them as well. However, for women over the BMI of 35, even Ella’s effectiveness is sure to be lower than usual.

Ella can be availed at a drugstore; however, you will need a prescription to buy it.

The side effects of the pill are acute headaches, nausea, vomiting, dysmenorrhea, dizziness, exhaustion and cramps in the lower abdominal area.

Though morning after emergency contraception pills are highly effective, they should only be taken as an emergency method of contraception. Your primary method should always be condoms or regular birth control pills as they are far more effective than the morning after pill in averting an unwanted pregnancy.

Suggested read: Do NOT Panic: 7 Important Things To Consider When You Get A Pregnancy Scare

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below we have answered some of the frequent asked questions. If your question isn’t covered, then you can always drop your query in the comment section, and our experts will get back to you immediately.

Do morning-after pills protect women from sexually transmitted diseases?

No, the morning after pills do not protect against STDs. To prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as safeguard yourself from such diseases, you should rely on primary methods of contraception, such as condoms and diaphragms. If you did not use protection while having sex, then you also need to get checked for STDs.

Are EC pills 100 percent effective?

Unfortunately, no. It is possible for someone to take the morning after pill in time, and yet get pregnant. You should take a pregnancy test three weeks after taking the emergency contraception pill/s.

If you observe symptoms of a pregnancy before three weeks, then you can immediately go for a pregnancy test. The symptoms include,

  • Soreness in breasts
  • Swollen breasts
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Exhaustion
  • Increased urination
  • Aversion to strong flavors
  • Aversion to food
  • Strong cravings for a particular food/s

Will the morning after pill affect my fertility?

No, it will not. One can take morning after pills repeatedly and not fear that the pills are damaging their future fertility. However, considering the side effects, it is always suggested that you rely on more beneficial and side effect-free methods of contraception, such as condoms and diaphragms.

Emergency contraception pills should be the last resort, and not the primary method of contraception.

What should I do if I vomit immediately after taking the morning after pill?

If you vomit immediately or three hours after taking the EC pill, whether it is Ella or progestin-only Plan B One Step, then you will have to take another dose of the pill, as soon as you can.

If I have had multiple episodes of sex (some protected/all unprotected) within the same 24 hours, how many pills do I have to take?

Suppose on Monday you had unprotected sex two times, then you will have to take just one morning after pill. However, if you have unprotected intercourse on Monday and then again on the following Saturday, then you need to take the pill after each episode, and it goes without saying, take the pills as soon as possible.

That is all we have on this post on emergency contraception. We hope we answered the most commonly asked question: How does the morning after pill work, well enough. :)

Was this guide helpful? Let us know in the comment section. Also, if we missed out on some details or if you have questions for us, please feel free to drop your questions below.

Here’s wishing you a healthy and happy you!

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Article Name
Plan B: What Is Emergency Contraception? How Does The Morning After Pill Work?
How does the morning after pill work? Today, we plan to discuss this at length to help you with the doubts that you have.
Riya Roy

Riya Roy

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.” This Isaac Asimov line, embraces my love for writing in the finest and most desperate way that it is and should be! I was tormented by the earnestness of the written word not very early in my journey. But once smitten, it has helped me devour life twice over; savoring the moment and indulging in its memories. As a flâneuse, I wander to understand the intricacies of human relationships. Realizing that, they are just different manifestations of the same feeling of love, has been my greatest learning. I seek to share its opulence through the words I type.