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EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION /

Emergency Contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts. (That means the EC pills are not the same as the abortion pill.) There are four types of EC to choose from and they all work up to 5 days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. But use it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant. view all methods »

types of emergency contraception

  • PARAGARD IUD

    This is the most effective EC there is. Have a provider insert it within 5 days of a misstep and lower your chance of pregnancy by 99.9%.

  • ELLA

    The newest form of EC in the U.S. is a one-pill formula available by prescription. Blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive. Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex and, unlike other EC pills, doesn't decrease in effectiveness during those 5 days.

  • LEVONORGESTREL-BASED PILLS

    Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice, My Way, and Levonorgestrel. Available over-the-counter, without a prescription. Similar to birth control pills, but at a much higher dose. Can work up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day.

  • YUZPE REGIMEN

    You can use certain birth control pills as EC if you follow the Yuzpe Regimen guidelines. Works best up to 3 days following unprotected sex. After that, it’s much less effective.

Swept up in the moment

Maybe it was due to the influence of alcohol. Maybe you thought you could go without birth control just this once. Maybe you didn't think about it at all. No matter the reason, if you didn't use any protection during sex and aren't hoping to get pregnant, EC might be for you—as long as it's been less than five days since that unprotected encounter.

You had a “whoops” moment with your contraception

If the condom broke, or you forgot to take your pill, insert your ring, apply your patch, or if your diaphragm slipped—anything like that—you may want to take EC.

Withdrawal gone wrong

If you're not sure he pulled out in time, that’s another reason you might think about using EC.

For scary situations

Rape is a horrible thing, but it happens. If you’ve been raped, or if you had sex with someone who refused to use another form of contraception, consider EC.

Keep some on hand

The sooner you take EC, the more effective it is. So it’s not a bad idea to keep a box of one of the pill varieties on hand, just in case you need it.

Don’t take our word for it. Check out the videos above to hear women and men talk about their experiences with emergency contraception. And be sure to ask your health care provider which method is best for you.

The cost for EC can vary a lot depending on where you get it (pharmacy vs. health center) and which of the four types you decide to use.

Prices for ella:*

  • With Medicaid: Free or a small co-pay
  • With insurance: Usually the cost of your co-pay
  • Without insurance: $40 from an online prescription service; that amount includes the cost of overnight shipping
  • Payment assistance: Check with your local family planning clinics to find out if they offer free or low cost EC (most do). Also, sometimes manufacturers will offer money-saving coupons on their websites, so check out www.ella-rx.com

Prices for Plan B One-Step, Next Choice ONE DOSE, Next Choice, and Levonorgestrel:*


Prices for the Pill (which you should already have on hand for Yuzpe):*

  • With Medicaid: Free or a small co-pay
  • With insurance: Usually the cost of your co-pay
  • Without insurance: $10-$20 (generic at pharmacies); $20-30 (Planned Parenthood); $60-$90 (name brand at pharmacies)
  • Payment assistance: For brand-name pills, contact the manufacturer’s website for information about coupons and discounts. Or contact the Partnership for Prescription Assistance at 1-888-4-PPA-NOW (1-888-477-2669) or www.pparx.org. Also, check with your local family planning clinics to find out if they offer free or low cost birth control pills (most do)

Prices for ParaGard*

  • With Medicaid: Free or a small co-pay
  • With insurance: Usually the cost of your co-pay
  • Without insurance: About $450 + $64/$25 to insert/remove (Planned Parenthood); $754 (manufacturer)

    To see how this translates over a year, here’s what it would cost to pay for ParaGard month-to-month at full price.

  • Cost per month over one year: $38 (Planned Parenthood); $63 (manufacturer)

  • Cost per month over five years: $8 (Planned Parenthood); $13 (manufacturer)
  • Cost per month over 10 years: $4 (Planned Parenthood); $6 (manufacturer)

  • Payment assistance: If you don't have insurance, the manufacturer offers a few different payment plans, where you can make 4, 12, or 19 monthly payments. Contact the manufacturer at www.paragard.com or 1-877-727-2427 to find out more. Also, check with your local family planning clinics to find out if they offer free or low cost IUDs (many do)



* FYI: This info is based on not-2-late.com and a recent survey of Planned Parenthood clinics and birth control manufacturers. Your cost may vary. Some clinics accept private insurance; some don’t. If you don’t have private insurance, be sure to ask your doctor or clinic about Title X, Medicaid waivers, or other programs that could reduce the cost of your birth control.

Emergency Contraception isn’t a method you should rely on all the time—there are much more effective methods out there. But if you have unprotected sex, it’s the quickest and easiest “after-the-fact” option out there. Here are the different types you can choose from.

Copper-T IUD

This is the most effective EC there is. If you get the ParaGard IUD inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex, it can lower the chance of pregnancy by 99.9%. You’ll need to make an appointment with a health care provider to have this procedure.

ella

You need a prescription to pick up ella at a local pharmacy. In some states, you can order it from an online pharmacy without getting a prescription first (they handle that for you on their website). There’s no age limit to access ella. Take the one-pill formula within 5 days after unprotected sex.

Levonorgestrel-based pills

Levonorgestrel-based EC pills are available off the shelf at pharmacies and grocery stores to anyone with no age restrictions. That means you should be able to buy Plan B One-Step or generic options like Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice, My Way, and Levonorgestrel without having a prescription or showing your ID. All levonorgestrel-based EC pills work like birth control pills, but at a much higher dose and taken temporarily. Best used as soon as possible, though they can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, and My Way consist of just one pill that's to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. (The original Plan B consisted of two pills and is no longer being sold.)

Next Choice and Levonorgestrel are both two-pill formulas. The instructions say to take one pill right away and the second 12 hours later, but research shows you can also take both pills at the same time.

The Yuzpe Regimen

Some everyday birth control pills can be used as EC. If you go that route, which is called the Yuzpe regimen, you’ve got to take the pills in two doses, 12 hours apart. And it only works with certain brands. Here’s an article to help you understand how to use the Yuzpe regimen.


Remember: Use EC as soon as possible after you’ve had unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better—within 24-hours to three days is ideal. But EC will still reduce your risk of pregnancy for up to 5 days. [The instructions for Plan B and Next Choice say to take it within 72 hours after sex, but studies show that Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and Levonorgestrel can be taken up to 5 days after sex.]

There are positive and negative things to say about each and every method. And everyone's different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friend experiences.

The Positive

Positive “side effects”? You bet. There are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.

The Negative

Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they’re not a problem. And if you do experience side effects with EC, they’ll probably go away after 24 hours.

ParaGard IUD

  • Offers protection and peace of mind after a “whoops” moment
  • The most effective EC option
  • Provides long-term coverage—up to 12 years
  • May cause cramping
  • Might lead to heavier or longer periods
  • Need to make an appointment for insertion

ella

  • Offers protection and peace of mind after a “whoops” moment
  • Doesn't decrease in effectiveness during the five-day window after unprotected sex
  • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
  • Could cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches
  • Requires a prescription

Yuzpe Regimen

  • Offers protection and peace of mind after a “whoops” moment
  • Can use the pills you already have on hand
  • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
  • Could cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches
  • Women tend to have more side effects—particularly the nausea—with Yuzpe than with other EC pills
  • It's the least effective of your EC options

Emergency contraception should not be used as a primary method of birth control. If you're having trouble using your primary method consistently, you may want to switch to a low-maintenance method like the IUD or the implant.

  • ...I heard emergency contraception works the same way as the abortion pill.

    No. No. No. If you’re already pregnant (even if you don’t know it yet), EC won’t work. EC can only prevent a pregnancy from starting; it can’t stop one that already has. And if you accidentally take EC before you know you’re pregnant, it won’t hurt you or the pregnancy.

  • ...My local pharmacy doesn't stock/runs out of emergency contraception.

    EC should be available at most pharmacies and health clinics, but it's probably worth looking into where in your area it's available before going to get it. That said, we highly recommend always keeping EC on hand "just in case." The sooner you take it, the more effective it is. And it's a lot less stressful than running around town looking for some after the fact.

  • ...I've heard that EC might be less effective for me because I am using an enzyme inducer (such as Dilantin the antibiotics rifampicin or griseofulvin, or St. John's Wort).

    Medications and herbal supplements that may make regular birth control pills less effective may also reduce the effectiveness of emergency contraceptive pills. So if you are using an enzyme inducer, it probably makes sense to increase the dose of EC. You should talk to your doctor about how much to increase the dose.

  • ...EC makes me really nauseous.

    To prevent nausea and vomiting, you can take the non-prescription anti-nausea medicine meclizine (also sold under the brand names Dramamine II or Bonine) an hour before taking the first dose of EC. Note that this might make you drowsy.

    If you end up puking within an hour of taking a dose of EC, you may want to take that dose again in case your body didn't absorb the hormones yet.

  • ...I heard guys can't buy emergency contraception.

    Yes. Any person can buy Plan B One-Step over-the-counter at their local pharmacy or clinic. Generic EC pills—which include Next Choice, Next Choice One Dose, and Levonorgestrel—can be purchased behind the counter if you're over 17 and require a prescription for those under 17.

  • ...I'm under 17 and don't know how to get emergency contraception.

    Yes, if you are under 17 you can get the brand name emergency contraception pill Plan B One-Step over-the-counter at any pharmacy without an ID.

    Anyone under 17 can get access to other brands of emergency contraceptive pills such as Next Choice or ella by visiting their local doctor or health clinic and getting a prescription.

quick facts /

  • EC provides the possibility of prevention after the fact.

  • ParaGard as EC is extremely effective; EC pills are somewhat effective (not as good as lots of methods you can use before or during sex).

  • With ParaGard you might have increased blood flow, cramping; EC pills can cause upset stomach and vomiting.

  • With ParaGard, it's inserted once and lasts for years; the number and dose of pills depends on the brand.

  • ella and Yuzpe require a prescription; ParaGard must be inserted by provider; Plan B One-Step is available without a prescription; generic levonorgestrel-based pills are available without prescription if 17 or older. Search for EC.