Emergency contraception is used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. There are two types of pills available in the UK; Levonelle, which can be taken up to 3 days after sex, or ellaOne, which is effective for up to 5 days.
There are many reasons why a woman may choose to take emergency contraception: their regular birth control method may have failed, they might have forgotten to take a pill, they may have chosen to have unprotected sex, or in some sad circumstances, the pill is taken after rape.
Neither pill will protect against STIs, and they aren’t intended for use as regular contraception, as they contain a far higher dose of hormones than traditional birth control medication, and are not as effective.
Emergency contraception is not an abortion pill. It works by delaying the release of an egg from the ovaries, meaning that it will not interfere with a pregnancy if conception has already occurred. Whilst there are options available for terminating a pregnancy, none of these are available to purchase through Doctor4U.
Both Levonelle and ellaOne are available to buy through us, subject to doctor approval, though if you need it urgently, we advise you visit a contraception clinic or GP as delivery when buying online may not be fast enough. However, it is a good idea to purchase in advance, either as a back-up, or if you’re travelling to a place where it is hard to obtain.
“Any type of emergency contraception must be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex for the medication to be most effective. It works by delaying ovulation, therefore preventing any sperm from fertilising an egg. It should not be taken as regular contraception, instead, methods such as daily birth control pills are recommended as they are more effective long-term”
What is Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception (EC) is a type of birth control that is taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. There are currently two types of EC medications available in the UK; levonorgestral (Levonelle) and ulipristal acetate (ellaOne). Neither medication will protect against STIs.
Whilst emergency contraception is commonly called the “morning after pill”, the window of opportunity for taking them effectively is longer than a few hours.
Levonelle can be taken up to 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex, where EllaOne can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after. Both pills work by delaying the release of an egg (ovulation) to prevent conception.
Neither of these medications are intended for use as regular birth control, as other methods such as the daily contraceptive pill or hormonal implants are more effective at preventing pregnancy. However, accidents do happen. For example, a condom can split during sex meaning that you aren’t protected against pregnancy, or another method of contraception could have failed or been used incorrectly.
At Doctor-4-U, you are able to buy either of the medications in advance, subject to doctor approval. This is for you to use as a back-up if you do have unprotected sex at some point in the future, or if you’re planning to travel abroad where EC is difficult to obtain. We don’t recommend ordering emergency contraception if you need it straight away, as delivery of the medication may not be fast enough to prevent pregnancy. If you need to take Levonelle or ellaOne now, you can get it at:
- Most walk-in centres/ Minor injuries units
- Contraception clinics
- Brook centres
- Some pharmacies
- Most GUM clinics
- Most GP surgeries
Am I protected against further unprotected sex after taking either pill?
Unfortunately, no. If you have unprotected sex at any point after taking Levonelle or ellaOne, you may still conceive. Should this happen, it is recommended to seek other options for emergency contraception such as the IUD (intrauterine device), however, this must be inserted by a trained healthcare professional and can’t be bought through Doctor-4-U.
Does emergency contraception work during ovulation?
As the emergency contraception options work by delaying ovulation, so if you’ve already ovulated and there is a chance that the egg may have been fertilised, neither medication can stop you getting pregnant. If you think you may have ovulated at the time you had unprotected sex, contact a GP or visit a contraception clinic for advice.
Will it end my pregnancy if I’ve already conceived?
No, if you’ve already conceived, neither ellaOne or Levonelle won’t terminate the pregnancy as they are not abortion pills. You will need to seek other methods depending on how far along in the pregnancy you are. In the UK, abortions can only be carried out up until 24 weeks gestation unless the mother or foetus’ life is at risk.
There are both medical and surgical options for terminating a pregnancy depending on which stage you’re at, though abortion pills cannot be bought through Doctor-4-U.
Can I use emergency contraception after giving birth?
Yes, you can take Levonelle or ellaOne after having a baby, though you shouldn’t need it for the first 21 days, as it isn’t possible to become pregnant during this time. If you have unprotected sex at any point after the first 21 days and you don’t wish to conceive again, you can take either pill as normal.
Is it safe to take ellaOne whilst breastfeeding as the traces of medicine that may pass through the milk haven’t shown to have any negative effects on infants. However, if you take ellaOne, it is recommended that you avoid breastfeeding for a week as the effects aren’t yet known.
Could I still get pregnant after taking emergency contraception?
Yes, there is a small chance that you may still conceive. As mentioned before, regular methods of contraception such as the combined or progesterone only pill have proven to be more effective at preventing pregnancy. Whilst Levonelle, and ellaOne are effective, neither pill is 100% effective.
Levonelle has been shown to prevent 95% of pregnancies if taken within the first 24 hours, though this effectiveness rapidly decreases to only 58% if taken at any point between 48-72 hours. It is essential to take Levonelle as soon as possible after unprotected sex for the best results possible.
EllaOne remains around 95% effective when taken between 48-120 hours after unprotected sex.
If you vomit within 3 hours of taking either emergency contraception pill, you are most likely not protected. If this happens to you, speak to a GP as soon as possible and they will be able to advise on the next steps to take.
What are the side effects?
Like all medications, both pills may cause side effects such as:
- Nausea/feeling sick
- Abdominal pain
- Irregular bleeding/ changes to next period
- Breast tenderness
- Back pain
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Mood swings
If you’re affected by any of these side effects, they should subside within a few days. However, if any are severe or you feel particularly unwell, speak to a doctor as soon as possible or ring NHS 111.
Can you take emergency contraception twice in a month?
EllaOne can only be taken once per cycle, whilst doctors generally agree that Levonelle can be used more often. However, the dosage of hormones in Levonelle and ellaOne are far higher than in regular oral contraceptives, so looking into other methods of preventing pregnancy would be the best option.
It is important to remember that some types of birth control, like the daily oral contraceptive pills, do not protect against STIs.
Some methods can be used in conjunction with each other, like using alongside taking the pill, so there are plenty of options available for safer and more reliable birth control.
Will it affect my regular contraception?
There is a chance that emergency contraception could temporarily affect how your regular birth control works for that cycle. If you take hormonal birth control, it is highly recommended that you use barrier methods such as condoms in addition to this until your next cycle.
Will it affect my fertility?
Many women that use emergency contraception do decide to have children at a later point. Whilst levonorgestral and ulipristal acetate can both cause temporary abnormalities to your cycle, there is no evidence to suggest that taking EC will affect your fertility.
How do I know if my EC worked?
It can be difficult to tell if a pill has prevented a pregnancy because of the side effects that many women experience. However, if your next period starts as expected and is no lighter than normal, it is likely that the emergency contraception has worked. If your period starts sooner than expected, is lighter than normal, or you miss it completely, it could indicate that conception has occurred. If you’re still unsure, you can take a pregnancy test to find out, though it’s best waiting until 3 weeks after unprotected sex as this is when most tests pick up on pregnancy hormones.