Aminata found out about the emergency contraceptive pill in 2017. Her aunt, being a nurse, had many drugs on her bedside table and being the curious type at the age of 18, she wanted to know everything about medicines. Pointing at the emergency contraceptive pills, her aunt told her that if she ever have unprotected sex, she should take this immediately to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
What is an emergency contraceptive pill?
Aminata had heard about condoms, oral pills and diaphragm but emergency contraceptive pills were new for her and hence super interesting to learn about. Basically, an emergency contraceptive pill is a safe and effective way to prevent unwanted or unintended pregnancy after having unprotected sex. This can be as a result of not using a contraceptive method, contraceptive failure or sexual assault.
It is always important to have options in life, and in the contraceptive world, the emergency contraceptive pill is the go-to thing. According to research, Plan B – an emergency contraceptive pill brand – has proven to be effective in every 7 out of 8 women; and Ella – another brand – has significantly reduced the expected pregnancy rate from 5.1% and 5.6% to 2.2% and 1.9 %.
Other Names for Emergency Contraceptive Pill
Being the party girl, Aminata always had girls’ night out with her squad. On one such night, she and her friends started talking about the “miracle pill” that can prevent pregnancies after unprotected sex. Aminata’s best friend said it is called the ‘morning after pill’; her other friend Janet argued it is called ‘back up’. Aminata insisted it is the emergency pill.
They finally took the matter to Google and found out that the emergency contraceptive pill is known by other names such as the morning after pill and Plan B. However, the ‘morning after pill’ description is flawed because you don’t necessarily have to wait for the morning after sex to take the pill, as you can take it immediately after sex. The earlier the better for it to be more effective!
Plan B seems a better description. If Plan A fails, which includes safe sex, Plan B kicks in to solve the problem, I guess.
Emergency Contraceptive Pill Brands
There are many different brands for emergency contraceptive pills. They include Plan B – One Step, Next Choice One Dose, Lydia, I-Pill, Revoke, My Way, Take Action, Aftera, Ulipristal and others.
Each drug has its special qualities that sets it apart.
How Does an Emergency Contraceptive Pill Work?
After having unprotected sex with her boo in 2019, it was time for Aminata to put all her knowledge to action. Luckily for her, she lived at Lumley in Freetown, where countless pharmacies could be found. Walking up to the counter, she asked for the 72 hours emergency contraceptive pill.
Levonorgestrel, a hormonal medication found in Plan B – One Step , Next Choice One Dose , My Way etc., stops or delays the release of the egg from the ovary. Levonorgestrel may also alter the lining of the uterus and prevent egg from implanting itself or it may reduce the ability of sperm to bind an egg. You should use it used within 72 hours after having unprotected sex. It lowers pregnancy prospects by 75%-89%. Levonorgestrel is mostly an over the counter drug that does not require prescription.
Other emergency contraceptive pill brands such as Ella have a progestin called Ulipristal, which works to prevent pregnancy by blocking the natural hormone ‘progesterone’ from occupying the receptor site in the body. This pill is considered to be more effective than Levonorgestrel. You can use it up to 5 days (120 hours) after having unprotected sex. However, unlike Levonorgestrel, Ella requires prescription in some places.
Is Emergency Contraceptive Pill an Abortion Pill?
It is important to clarify that emergency contraceptive pill is not an abortion pill, because there is a lot of confusion about that.
Emergency contraceptive pill only works to prevent pregnancy. It cannot abort pregnancy. That is, if a woman is already pregnant, emergency contraceptive pill cannot cause abortion.
This belief stems from the idea that contraceptives are used before sex and if they are used after sex, they must be for abortion. But this is a complete misconception.
Emergency contraceptive pills are not for abortion. They are just contraceptives.
Can Emergency Contraceptive Pills Prevent STIs?
No! Emergency contraceptive pills only prevent unwanted or unintended pregnancy. They do not in any way prevent you from contracting HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis and other sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs). It is important to use condoms to prevent STIs.
Well Aminata had only thought about preventing pregnancy and had forgotten about STIs. So she dragged herself to a clinic to be certain about her status. And boom, her results came out negative. It’s not like she didn’t trust her boo Mohamed, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
Advantages of Using Emergency Contraceptive Pill
Life happens! Every now and then, the urge for sex is so strong that the use of contraceptives flies far away from the mind. Emergency contraceptive pills worked miraculously for Aminata: no baby on board.
There are also times when you actually decide to be safe, but the contraceptive fails. You also have situations when your chosen withdrawal method doesn’t work. And there are sad times when sexual assault is the case. Emergency contraceptive pills can prevent unwanted/unintended pregnancy in cases of failed contraceptive method (condom broke/slipped off, diaphragm dislodged, expulsion of IUD/Implant), contraceptive not used at all, failed withdrawal, and sexual assault.
Birth Control Pills as Emergency Contraceptive
You can use regular birth control pills as emergency contraception, but you have to take more than one pill at a time to prevent pregnancy. This works but it is less effective and is more likely to cause nausea.
You should not do this until you talk to your doctor.
Emergency Contraceptive Pills and Women With High BMI
This is a very delicate issue and there are many researches that suggest – but not confirm – that emergency contraceptive pills with levonorgestrel don’t work so well for women with high BMI.
Side Effects of Emergency Contraceptive Pills
Some people are afraid of using emergency contraceptive pills because of the side effects it might have. Merits and demerits dictate the nature of things in life. Emergency contraceptive pills are not an exception. They are safe though and the side effects are short term and mild. These side effects may include:
- Nausea (20 out of 100 women)
- Vomiting (This occurs within 3 hours of taking Ulipristal (Ella) or 2 hours of taking levonorgestrel)
- Irregular bleeding, spotting or heavier bleeding.
- Breast tenderness
- Stomach/ Abdominal pain
For Aminata, it was vomiting and a headache. For my other friend Mariama, it was fatigue and stomach pain. The effects did not last long though and everything was fine in a short time.
Where Can I Get Emergency Contraceptive Pills?
They can be acquired at health centers, drugstores, family planning clinics, hospitals etc. Levonorgestrel is an over the counter drug, whilst Ella needs prescription.
Conclusively, emergency contraceptive pills can be taken within 72 hours (Levonorgestrel) or 120 hours (Ella) to prevent unwanted/ unintended pregnancy. Take the pill as soon as possible for it to be more effective.
Do you have something to share? Leave your comments below, contact us on our social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok or send us an email to [email protected] For more information on contraception, visit findmymethod.org
About the author: 23-year-old Naffie Mustapha is a Sierra Leonean youth advocate who believes in access to information about sexual reproductive health and right. She is the author of the book Girlz Planete: Teenage Pregnancy and the editor of Nafisa Magazine.