Emergency contraception options
Emergency contraception works to prevent pregnancy after intercourse. The closer to the intercourse that Emergency contraception is used, the more effective it will be in preventing pregnancy. Emergency contraception does not provide protection from any STIs. There are currently 2 types of contraception that can be used as emergency contraception:
- Emergency Contraceptive Pill
- Copper IUD
1. Emergency Contraceptive Pill
Emergency contraceptive pills are also known as:
- Morning After Pill (MAP)
- BACKUP PLAN ONESTEP (a brand name)
- Plan B (a brand name)
- Contingency ONE (a brand name)
- Norlevo (a brand name)
- Option 2 (a brand name)
- EC or ECP
This hormonal pill(s) are an emergency method of birth control that a user can use after unprotected intercourse or after a birth control failure such as a condom breaking or a missed pill, in order to prevent pregnancy. Emergency contraception is very safe.
It’s a good idea for all sexually active people (at risk of becoming or causing someone to become pregnant) to keep a dose on hand for emergencies. The Emergency Contraceptive Pill(s) are not suitable for regular birth control use because they are less effective than other methods, intended to be effective for a temporary period of time, and do not protect against sexually transmitted infections.
How to get the emergency contraception pill
Anyone can get emergency contraception for immediate use or to keep on hand. You do not need a prescription. You can find it:
- right here at ISHS (four locations in Greater Victoria, BC)
- over the counter (either on the shelf or you may need to ask for it at the counter) at most drug stores
- at other sexual health or youth clinics
- from your doctor
- from a walk-in clinic
The Plan B website can help you find emergency contraception in Canada.
The Not-2-Late website can help you find emergency contraception in the US.
You can buy up to 3 packages of ECP before you need it, “just in case” from us. If you have purchased ECP in advance but sure to check to expiry date before you use it.
ECP is most effective within 72 hours after sex. The sooner you take emergency contraceptive pill(s), the more likely they will successfully reduce the risk of pregnancy.
- After 72 hours, the effectiveness drops but it can still be used with less effectiveness up to 120 hours after unprotected sex.
How does it work?
ECP contains the hormone progestin (levonorgestrel) and works in a number of ways:
- delaying or preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg
- altering the cervical mucus that acts as a barrier to sperm and prevents the sperm and egg meeting (fertilization)
- changing the lining of the uterus to make it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant
- by slowing the sperm and egg as they move down the tube
How effective is it?
It is most effective when treatment is started in the the first 24 hours after sex occurs. It is difficult to measure exact effectiveness of emergency contraceptive pill(s) as there are many different variables such as where a person is in their cycle when it was used, how much time had passed when it was used, was there a birth control malfunction or none used. The package insert states that it is 89% effective, however some researchers believe the effectiveness more realistically to be somewhere around 50-60%. We do know it is definitely better than nothing and we also know that timing influences it’s effectiveness. The sooner the medication can be taken, the more quickly the changes will take effect.
ECP may not work if:
- a fertilized egg has already implanted in the uterus before taking the pills
- too much time passed between unprotected intercourse and taking the pill and ovulation still occurs
Health Canada states that these “pills are less effective in women weighing 165 to 176 pounds (75-80 kg), and are not effective in women over 176 pounds (80 kg). Women who weigh 165 pounds or more are advised to ask a health professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist, for advice on alternative methods of emergency contraception.”
ECP does not work if you are already pregnant; it does not cause abortion.
How much does it cost?
We charge $17 per box (single complete dose) but pharmacies generally charge more.
There are currently three types of emergency contraceptive pills available in Canada:
- Progestin only pill method sold as Plan B/Contingency ONE/Option 2/NorLevo
- Ullipristal Acetate Pill (not available at ISHS)
- Yuzpe (Ovral) method, containing both estrogen and progestin (not available at ISHS)
The progestin only pill is slightly more effective than older forms of the morning after pill, and is much less likely to cause nausea and is the ONLY type currently available at ISHS!
Most people tolerate Plan B/BACKUP PLAN/Contingency ONE/Option 2/NorLevo well; however it can cause minor side effects in some users such as fatigue, breast tenderness, headache, and abdominal pain. Rarely, people feel nauseated after use.
There is no evidence that ECP would harm a developing fetus should it be taken accidently during early pregnancy.
ECP will not protect you from pregnancy if you have unprotected sex after you take it. It has only been developed to reduce the risk of pregnancy after a single event of contraceptive failure/interruption.
Common Questions about ECP:
- When will my period come after taking ECP?
- You should expect to have your period around the time you expect next it although sometimes ECP can make your period come a little bit earlier or later. If your period is more than a week late, you may want to take a pregnancy test.
- If I take more than one box of ECP at a time, will it be more effective?
- No, taking more than a single dose will not make it more effective.
- If I take ECP more than once, will it become less effective if I need to take it again?
- No, but remember it’s not meant to be used as a regular method of birth control only a backup method of birth control for situations when there has been a problem with another method or no method has been used.
- If I have taken ECP and I am using the pill, patch, or ring should I stop using the other methods?
- No, just continue using them as you normally would. ECP will just act as a backup to the other method.
- If I have taken ECP today and I want to begin a regular method like the pill, the patch or ring, when do I start taking the regular method ?
- You should begin taking your regular method the day after you take ECP and use a back up method like condoms for the first 7 days.
2. Copper IUD
The copper IUD can be inserted within 7 days after intercourse and is 99% effective against pregnancy. Another great benefit of using Copper IUD as emergency contraception is that it can remain in the uterus for up to 5 years becoming a longer term birth control method.
This option is not available as a drop-in service and is only available with an appointment at our Quadra Street location. Emergencyiud.com lists other service providers offering emergency iud insertions in Western Canada.
Call us for an appointment if you are interested in pursuing this option.