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Contraception - emergency contraception

Summary

Emergency contraception, also known as the ‘morning after pill', can be used to prevent an unplanned pregnancy after having unprotected sex. It is best to take emergency contraception as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours of having sex, but it still works well within 96 hours (four days). After this time, it is not very effective. You may need emergency contraception if the pill is missed, a condom breaks, no contraception was used or in the case of rape.

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Emergency contraception, also known as the ‘morning after pill’, can be used to prevent an unplanned pregnancy after having unprotected sex. You may need emergency contraception if you have sex without any contraception, you miss taking the oral contraceptive pill or if a condom breaks. It may also be needed in the case of rape.

It is best to take emergency contraception as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours of having sex, but it still works well within 96 hours (four days). You can take it within 96 to 120 hours (five days), but it will not be very effective.

Emergency contraception and unplanned pregnancy


Emergency contraception is around 85 per cent effective in preventing an unintended pregnancy. It works by delaying or preventing ovulation.

Emergency contraception is only meant to be used in emergencies. It is not an ongoing or long-term method of contraception.

Types of emergency contraception


If you have unprotected sex and want to lessen your chance of pregnancy, you need to take emergency contraception as soon as you can.

The progestogen-only method is the most commonly used method in Australia. It involves taking a dose of emergency contraception pills containing progestogen, a synthetic version of the progesterone normally made by the ovaries. This is usually one full dose that is taken straight away. A doctor can prescribe these pills, but they can also be bought over the counter without a prescription at most pharmacies in Australia.

Progestogen-only emergency contraception is safe to use when breastfeeding and it is rare for a health issue to be a reason not to take it. However, because some medication can make it less effective, so you should check with a doctor or pharmacist before taking emergency contraception.

After taking emergency contraception, you will need to keep using another method of contraception, such as condoms, to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. You can usually start an effective, ongoing method of contraception, such as the contraceptive implant, immediately after taking emergency contraception.

A copper intrauterine device (IUD) is a very effective form of emergency contraception. It is particularly useful if you are taking medication that could make emergency contraception pills less effective. You can speak with a doctor about this option.

Emergency contraception and the pill


You may need emergency contraception if you miss any of the first seven active pills of a cycle and have unprotected sex. Active pills are the pills taken straight after you finish the sugar pills. After taking emergency contraception, keep taking your pills as normal and use condoms until you have had seven active pills in a row.

Your next period after emergency contraception


After taking emergency contraception, most women have their next period around its expected time. About 30 per cent will have an early period and 15 per cent will have a late one.

The next step after emergency contraception


After taking emergency contraception, you may need to:
  • have a pregnancy test – if your next period is more than seven days late, is in any way unusual or more painful than usual
  • be screened for sexually transmissible infections (STIs) – if you think you could be at risk (some STIs do not cause symptoms, but can cause long-term health problems such as infertility)
  • think about future contraception – ask a doctor or nurse for information about your options to help you decide which method you would like to use to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.

Protection against sexually transmissible infections


It is important to practise safer sex. The best way to lessen the risk of STIs is to use barrier protection such as male and female condoms. Condoms can be used for oral, vaginal and anal sex with other types of contraception to help prevent the spread of infections.

Women weighing more than 75 kilograms


Although some research suggests emergency contraception may not work for women weighing more than 75 kilograms, other research indicates it is effective. Emergency contraception is still recommended for women in this group who have had unprotected sex and want to avoid pregnancy. A copper IUD is a very effective method of emergency contraception for all women, including women weighing over 75 kilograms.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Pharmacist
  • Community health centre
  • Family Planning Victoria Tel. (03) 9257 0100 or freecall 1800 013 952
  • Family Planning Victoria’s Action Centre (for people aged under 25) Tel. (03) 9660 4700 or freecall 1800 013 952
  • The Women’s Health Information Centre (WHIC) Tel. (03) 8345 3045 or 1800 442 007 (regional or rural callers)
  • Melbourne Sexual Health Centre Tel. (03) 9341 6200 or freecall 1800 032 017 or TTY (for the hearing impaired) (03) 9347 8619
  • Public hospital – if you need emergency contraception and cannot get to any of the above services, go to the emergency department of a public hospital

Things to remember

  • Emergency contraception can prevent an unplanned pregnancy after having unprotected sex.
  • It is best to take emergency contraception as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours of having sex, but it still works well within 96 hours (four days). You can take it within 96 to 120 hours (five days), but it will not be very effective.
  • Emergency contraception is around 85 per cent effective in preventing an unplanned pregnancy.
  • Male and female condoms give the best available protection against sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

Family Planning Victoria

(Logo links to further information)


Family Planning Victoria

Last reviewed: March 2015

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.


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Emergency contraception, also known as the ‘morning after pill', can be used to prevent an unplanned pregnancy after having unprotected sex. It is best to take emergency contraception as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours of having sex, but it still works well within 96 hours (four days). After this time, it is not very effective. You may need emergency contraception if the pill is missed, a condom breaks, no contraception was used or in the case of rape.



Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your qualified health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residence and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a qualified health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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