Emergency Contraception Pills

We explain everything about the emergency contraception pill, how it works, its benefits, and its secondary effects. Check how the emergency pill works!
Emergency Contraception Pills


Emergency Contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts. (That means the EC pills are not the same as the abortion pill.) Depending on where you live you may have multiple types of EC to choose from. Most types work up to 5 days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex, and the sooner you use it, the more effective it will be.


Examples of emergency contraception:

Ulipristal acetate dedicated pills. This new form of EC is a one-pill dose that works up to 5 days after unprotected sex and, unlike other EC pills, won’t decrease in effectiveness during those 5 days.

Levonorgestrel-based pills: Lydia Postpil, Postinor 2, Norpill, Unwanted72, Nowill Pill, Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice, My Way, After Pill, Levonorgestrel. These may be available over the counter with or without a prescription, depending on your country of residence. They are similar to other contraceptive pills but at much higher doses. They can work up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day. If you want to use this method, you should use it as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

Non-hormonal IUD. This is the most effective EC there is. Have a provider insert it within 5 days of unprotected sex. It will lower your chance of pregnancy by 99.9%

Yuzpe Method. You can use certain regular contraceptive pills as EC if you follow specific steps (see our “How to use it” section below. It is not as effective as other EC options. Works best up to 3 days following unprotected sex.

Quick Facts

  • Emergency Contraception Pill (EC) provides the possibility of pregnancy prevention when a person had unprotected sex (consented or not consented) or when the method failed. You can use EC pills or a non-hormonal IUD.
  • In most parts of the world, emergency contraceptive pills consist of two pills while in some it is just one pill. Both two pills and one pill regimens are equally effective
  • Effectiveness: EC options are very effective. 99 of every 100 individuals using these options will manage to prevent pregnancy.  However,  methods you can use before or during sex may offer more advantages.
  • Side effects: with copper IUD you might have increased blood flow, cramping; EC pills can cause upset stomach and vomiting
  • Effort: variable. With a copper IUD, it is inserted once and lasts for years. The number and dose of pills depend on the brand.
  • Doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). [10]


You had an accident 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 use Emergency Contraception Pills.

Withdrawal gone wrong. You can also use EC if you are not sure your partner pulled out in time.

You got swept up in the moment. If you did not use any protection during sex and do not want to get pregnant, think about EC. But make sure you use it within five days of the unprotected sex.

For scary situations. If you have 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 is not a bad idea to keep a box of one of the EC pill varieties available, just in case you need it.

The EC that keeps going. If you find yourself in need of EC and want a longer-lasting solution, the copper IUD is the most effective EC option. It can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex. You will have an easy and super-effective method for up to 12 years.

How To Use

Though EC does the job, there are other options that offer more long-term benefits and will help you to be more relaxed during sexual activity. If you have unprotected sex, it is the quickest and easiest option out there after you have sex. Here are the different types you can choose from.[10]

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

Ulipristal acetate dedicated pills.. Take the one-pill formula within 5 days after unprotected sex.

Levonorgestrel-based pills. All levonorgestrel-based EC pills work like regular contraceptive 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.

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

The Yuzpe Regimen. Some types of regular contraceptive pills can be used as EC. If you go that route, which is called the Yuzpe regimen, you need to take the pills in two doses, 12 hours apart. And it only works with certain brands.

Remember: use EC as soon as possible after you have had unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better – within 24-hours to three days is ideal. Emergency Contraception will still reduce your risk of pregnancy for up to 5 days.

Side Effects

Everyone is different. What you experience may not be the same thing as another person.

The Positive: there are lots of things about EC alternatives that are good for your body as well as your sex life.

  • Offers protection and peace of mind after unprotected sex or when the method has failed

The Negative: everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they are not a problem. And if you do experience side effects with EC, they will probably go away after 24 hours. [5]

  • Ulipristal Acetate and Levonorgestrel-based pills
    • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
    • Could cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches. It requires a prescription in some countries.
  • Yuzpe Regimen
    • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
    • Could cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches
    • Women tend to have more side effects – particularly nausea – with Yuzpe than with other EC pills
    • It is the least effective of your EC options



[1] Black, K. I., & Hussainy, S. Y. (2017). Emergency contraception: Oral and intrauterine options. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners . Retrieved from https://www.racgp.org.au/download/Documents/AFP/2017/October/V2/AFP-2017-10-Focus-Emergency-Contraception.pdf

[2] Dr Marie Marie Stopes International. (2017). Contraception. Retrieved from http://www.mariestopes.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Contraception-brochure-web-200417.pdf

[3] FSRH Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare. (Amended 2017). FSRH Guideline Emergency Contraception. London. Retrieved from https://www.fsrh.org/standards-and-guidance/documents/ceu-clinical-guidance-emergency-contraception-march-2017/

[4] FPA the sexual health charity. (2017). Your guide to emergency contraception. Retrieved from https://www.fpa.org.uk/sites/default/files/emergency-contraception-your-guide.pdf

[5] FPA the sexual health charity. (2017). Emergency contraception. Retrieved from https://www.fpa.org.uk/sites/default/files/emergency-contraception-pdf-information.pdf

[6] ICEC The International Consortium for Emergency Contraception . (2018). EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTIVE PILLS: Medical and Service Delivery Guidance. Endorsed by FIGO. Retrieved from https://www.cecinfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/ICEC-guides_FINAL.pdf

[7] Matyanga, C. M., & Dzingirai, B. (2018). Clinical Pharmacology of Hormonal Emergency Contraceptive Pills. International Journal of Reproductive Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6193352/

[8] Trussell, et al. (2019). Emergency Contraception: A Last Chance to Prevent Unintended Pregnancy. Office of Population Research, Princeton University. Retrieved from https://ec.princeton.edu/questions/ec-review.pdfhttps://ec.princeton.edu/questions/ec-review.pdf

[9] The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ((Reaffirmed 2018)). Emergency Contraception. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/-/media/project/acog/acogorg/clinical/files/practice-bulletin/articles/2015/09/emergency-contraception.pdf

[10] Upadhya, K. K. (2019). Emergency Contraception. AAP COMMITTEE ON ADOLESCENCE. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/144/6/e20193149.full.pdf

[11] World Health Organization . (2018). Emergency contraception. World Health Organization . Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/emergency-contraception

[12] World Health Organization Department of Reproductive Health and Research and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs (2018) Family Planning: A Global Handbook for Providers. Baltimore and Geneva. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/260156/9780999203705-eng.pdf?sequence=1

[13] World Health Organization. (2016). Selected practice recommendations for contraceptive use. Geneva. Retrieved fromhttps://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/252267/9789241565400-eng.pdf?sequence=1