Emergency contraception can be used to reduce the chance of pregnancy after sex. You may require this method of contraception if you have unprotected sex, miss a dose of your oral contraceptive pill or if the condom breaks during sex.
What is the emergency contraceptive pill?
The emergency contraceptive pill, previously known as ‘the morning after pill’, is the most commonly used form of emergency contraception. It contains a special dose of the oral contraceptive hormone progestogen.
How does it work?
The emergency contraceptive pill can work in two ways. If it is taken prior to ovulation, it works by delaying the release of an egg from the ovaries. If ovulation has already taken place, it may stop a fertilised egg from implanting in the uterus.
How do I take it?
The emergency contraceptive pill should be taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex.
The emergency contraceptive pill is available as either a 1-pill or 2-pill packet. The total dose of hormones contained in each packet is the same and both methods are equally effective.
If you are supplied a 1-pill packet, you will be advised to take the pill immediately.
If you are supplied with a 2-pill packet, you may be advised to take both pills at once, or to take the second pill exactly 12 hours after you have taken the first pill. If you vomit within two hours of taking the emergency contraceptive pill, you may not have received a full dose. You should consult your doctor or pharmacist as you will need to take another dose.
How effective is it?
When taken correctly and within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex, the emergency contraceptive pill is 95% effective. The effectiveness of the pill decreases the longer the time from the unprotected intercourse to when you take the tablet.
Where can I get it?
The emergency contraceptive pill is available from most pharmacies. The pharmacist will want to ask you a few questions to ensure it is safe for you to take this medicine.
Is it suitable for all women?
The emergency contraceptive pill is suitable for most women. It is important to check with your pharmacist if you are taking any other medication as this may lessen the pill's effectiveness.
How often can I use the emergency contraceptive pill?
The emergency contraceptive pill, as the name implies, is meant for use in emergency situations only. It is not an ongoing or long-term method of contraception.
Are there any side effects?
Common side effects are tiredness, nausea and vomiting. Some patients have also experienced stomach pain, diarrhoea, dizziness, headache, tender breasts, increased vaginal bleeding and skin reactions.
If you have any questions regarding emergency contraception, contact your doctor or pharmacist.
Sexual Health & Family Planning Australia. Contraception: An Australian clinical practice handbook. 2nd edition. November 2008.
The information provided on this website about medicines is taken from the relevant Product Information/Consumer Medicine Information leaflets. Please see your doctor or pharmacist for more information on individual options.
IMP-10-AUS-7288-PE First issued February 2011.