Whether you suffered from a condom mishap or a total lapse in judgment, having a backup plan is key when it comes to preventing unwanted pregnancy. And research shows that more women are taking advantage of that backup: Emergency contraception use rose from 4.2 percent of sexually active women in the U.S. in 2002 to 11 percent in 2006-2010, according to a recent CDC report.
Plus, that number has probably continued to rise in the last few years, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wonderful for women to know that [emergency contraception] is out there and available to them, because we know accidents happen,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Minkin. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But we also hope that people continue to use reliable contraception all the time.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But about those accidents: Post-unprotected sex, your mind may be a total anxious blur. So knowing a few key facts about your options before you need them will save you a ton of stress later on. Here, the six most important things to know about the morning-after pill:
There's more than one option YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve probably heard of the most common pills on the market, Plan B and Plan B One-Step (the one-pill dose), which is available over-the-counter for women 17 and older. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a progestin-only pill that is effective at preventing pregnancy up to 72 hours after unprotected sex and works mainly by inhibiting ovulation. But thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another med you should know about: Ella is a newer form of emergency contraception that can be taken up to five days after your oops moment, though itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only available with a prescription. It also works by stopping or delaying ovulation, but it carries the same effectiveness for five days, says Minkin, rather than just 72 hours.
It doesn't just come in pill form Turns out the most foolproof method of emergency contraception actually isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a pill at allÃ¢â‚¬”inserting a copper IUD up to five days after unprotected sex can also prevent pregnancy. Ã¢â‚¬Å“By far, the most effective emergency contraception is the insertion of a copper IUD,Ã¢â‚¬Â says James Trussell, Ph.D., faculty associate at the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. Since this would include a doctorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s visit, a (potentially painful) insertion procedure, and a hefty upfront cost, it may not be a viable option for women who werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t already considering an IUD. This might be why the FDA doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t list the IUD as an approved method of emergency contraception. However, if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking for a reliable birth control method anyway, this might be the time to talk to your doctor about the option. Click here to learn more about the IUD.
You have (a little) time While 72 hours may sound like a long timeÃ¢â‚¬”not to mention the five days you get with EllaÃ¢â‚¬”that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean you should put off your trip to the drugstore. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You may have three days, but the sooner you take it, the better. If you can get to the pharmacy immediately, you should,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Minkin. However, if you know you wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make the 72-hour mark, you may want to call your doctor for a prescription for Ella to buy yourself some time.
The pharmacist could shut you down This may sound crazy, but several states have laws that allow pharmacies or individual pharmacists to refuse to sell you emergency contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If this happens, they are supposed to direct you to someone who can get it for you,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Minkin. Save yourself the trouble and call ahead. Dial up your nearest pharmacy (and a backup) to confirm that they have the pill in stock and that they have no qualms about dispensing it. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re having trouble locating a pharmacy with EC, call your local Planned Parenthood for help.
Your period could be different DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be shocked if your flow is a little off during the month that you take EC. Your period may be earlier, later or heavier than normal as a result of the medication, though it can also change due to stress (and who wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be anxious after a birth control failure!). However, if your cycle is more than a few days late, you may want to take a pregnancy test. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Emergency contraception isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t 100 percent effective, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s better than nothing,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Minkin.
It shouldn't replace birth control ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a reason why this isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t called Plan AÃ¢â‚¬”itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not meant to be used as your regular birth control method. Instead, think of it like your emergency credit card: YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not going to use it every day, but you might need to whip it out after a major slip-up. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not dangerous to your health to take it several times, but there are a lot of great contraceptive methods out there,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Minkin. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I do not recommend this for regular contraception, and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m always encouraging people to use condoms no matter what.Ã¢â‚¬Â That said, mistakes happen. And like your emergency plastic, it wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be a bad idea to keep one on hand in case of emergencies.
photo: alpimages/Shutterstock More from Women's Health:
All About Birth ControlÃ‚Â
The Smart Girl's Guide to Contraceptives
Take a Stand For Your Reproductive Rights
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