Morning After Pill: How It Works and Possible Side Effects

Plan B, also known as the morning after pill, is a type of emergency contraception used to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex. Keep in mind that the Plan B pill is a branded form of emergency contraception.  There are other morning after pills with similar efficacy rates and side effects, none of which should be used routinely.

Plan B One Step and other morning after pills contain the hormone Levonorgestrel. Other brands, like Ella and Ella One, contain the hormone ulipristal acetate. Despite its name, the morning after pill is more effective the sooner it is taken to unprotected sex. It becomes less effective the more time elapses.

Disclaimer: For medical advice or information, please speak with your gynecologist. This article was written for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Any opinions expressed in it are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Casco Cup.

What Is Plan B?

The Plan B pill is a type of emergency contraception that may prevent pregnancy within three days of unprotected sex. Other brand names that contain the same active ingredient — Levonorgestrel — are:

  • Take Action
  • AfterPill
  • My Way
  • Norlevo
  • Levonelle

These brands all function in the same way, though they may vary in cost. They typically contain 1.5 mg of Levonorgestrel.

Other morning after pills Ella and Ella One may prevent pregnancy thanks to a different hormone: ulipristal acetate. Ella contains 30 mg ulipristal acetate and is available with a prescription. There is a third emergency contraception option that contains a combination of progestin and estrogen. These are the least effective of the three oral methods. We'll go over the subtleties between these two types of emergency contraception later.

How Do I Get the Morning After Pill?

You do not need a prescription or proof of age to purchase Levonorgestrel options at a drug store. If you don't see it, it may be behind the counter with a pharmacist. Feel free to ask them no matter your gender or age. Other clinics, such as Planned Parenthood or a local family planning clinic may carry it. Some are even available online. With these, it's best to factor in shipping time as well.

Ella typically requires a prescription.

Emergency Contraception Alternatives

These are not the only types of emergency contraception, either. The copper IUD, also known as the Paragard, may be used as emergency birth control if inserted within five days of conception. It is also the most effective form of emergency contraception, according to a review of 35 years of study.

More specifically, the copper IUDs were 99.9% effective, according to research. That's 10 times more effective than the average emergency contraception pill.

Note: A menstrual cup is not a form of birth control, meaning that it is not a diaphragm. These are exclusively reserved for period care and are not designed to prevent pregnancy or STIs.

How and When to Get a Copper IUD

Most experts recommend inserting a copper IUD within five to seven days of unprotected sex. Why would copper be more effective than the morning after pill? Copper ions are toxic to sperm, thus the copper IUD's high rate of efficacy in terms of emergency contraception.

Remember that IUDs must be inserted by medical professionals, and thus require an appointment with a gynecologist or at a clinic like Planned Parenthood. The Copper IUD can be used as a form of non-hormonal birth control for up to 12 years.

How Effective Is Plan B?

Plan B and other alternatives become less effective the longer a person waits to take it. According to clinical trials, Levonorgestrel pills have an efficacy rate of between 96% and 99%. By contrast, Ulipristal acetate morning after pills are between 97% and 99% effective.

More research found that the chances of pregnancy were 42% lower with ulipristals compared to Levonorgestrels within 72 hours of unprotected sex. This is due to the former's ability to disrupt uterine hormones.

The third alternative, oral contraception that contains progestin and estrogen, are the least effective. These range from 96% to 98% effective, according to the same scientific review.

Side Note About Efficacy Calculations

Efficacy is usually measured in terms of the number of pregnancies over a period of time considered in a study. Keep in mind that there are a lot of factors that neither science nor an individual can account for when thinking of these statistics, such as what percentage of women would become pregnant without it or external factors.

How Does Plan B Work, Exactly?

If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, this one capsule may prevent fertilization, temporarily stop the ovary from releasing an egg, prevent the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall, or endometrium. It will not stop an existing pregnancy, and should not be used as regular birth control.

How Much Is Plan B?

It ranges between $40 and $50, typically. There are cheaper generic alternatives, such as After Pill, which is $20 plus shipping or Take Action or Next Choice One Dose, which may be up to 20% cheaper than Plan B. After Pill may not offer expedited shipping, meaning that someone should have it on hand if they intend on using it. Otherwise, it may not arrive within the window of highest efficacy.

The cheapest morning after pill may be online or in stores with a coupon or at a local clinic. Some insurance companies may cover Plan B. However, they may require a prescription for coverage.

Where to Find a Plan B Coupon

At the time of writing, coupons were available directly from the Plan B website, CVS pharmacy, Dealsplus, Single Care, Helprx and more websites accessible through a google search. Bear in mind that some coupons are reserved for prescriptions, not over-the-counter emergency contraception.

7 Common Plan B Side Effects

No one likes to take the Plan B pill, mostly due to the potential for side effects. A study of Levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate found that some of the most common morning after pill side effects include:

  • Headaches for 20% of subjects
  • Painful periods for 14%
  • Nausea for 12%

Dizziness, abdominal pain, and queasiness are not uncommon. It may also affect when someone gets their period and their PMS symptoms. If you have any concerns about these side effects, please speak with your gynecologist. Some women take anti-nausea medication such as Dramamine to mitigate Plan B side effects.

Plan B and Morning After Pills, in Review

For many people, taking Plan B One Step is not a choice but a necessity. No matter why someone takes it, it's essential to know the facts about efficacy, side effects, and alternative forms of emergency contraception. If you have any specific questions, it's best to speak with your doctor or go to a clinic for more information.

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