Accidents happen, and, fortunately, if you have had unprotected sex, if your contraception has failed (a split condom, for example), or if you haven’t kept up with your regular birth control, you do have options.  In the UK, you can get two different kinds of emergency pills from your pharmacist or even online.  You should also know that you can also get an Intrauterine Device (IUD, a small plastic and copper device implanted into your womb to prevent pregnancy) implanted shortly after sex to prevent pregnancy.

Who Can Use the Morning After Pill?

The morning after pills available in the UK are safe for most women, as is the IUD.  Ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe for you.  If you have allergies to any of the ingredients, you won’t be able to use the morning-after pill. Tell your doctor or pharmacist what other medications you are using, including vitamins or supplements, to avoid harmful interactions. If you are on a regular form of birth control, ask your doctor or pharmacist when to resume using it.  It varies depending on which pill is prescribed.

When Can I Use the Morning After Pill?

There are two morning after pills commonly sold or dispensed in the UK.  When you need to take them depends on which one you are recommended.  Levonelle must be taken within three days of sexual intercourse.  The earlier you take it, the more effective it is.  EllaOne can be taken up to five days after intercourse and still be highly effective.  The IUD can also be inserted up to five days after intercourse to prevent pregnancy and can be left in place as a long-term form of birth control.

How Does Emergency Contraception Work?

The two primary forms of emergency pill in the UK work in similar ways.  Levonelle contains the active ingredient Levonogestrel, which is a synthetic version of the hormone progestogen.  It stops or delays the egg from being released and implanted in the womb.  EllaOne contains a medicine called Ulipristal, which interferes with the same hormone.  The IUD releases copper to prevent an egg from implanting in the womb or being fertilised.

Is Emergency Contraception Abortion?

No, the emergency pills and the IUD can prevent a pregnancy before it starts.  They stop an egg from implanting in the womb, or, in the case of the IUD, prevent fertilisation.

Side Effects

You may experience some side effects from using emergency contraception, but in the case of the pill, they are generally not serious or long-term. You may have:

  • A headache,
  • Stomach pain,
  • Changes to your next period, like being late or early, and experiencing more pain,
  • Or feeling or being sick (get medical attention if you are sick within 3 hours of taking ellaOne or 2 hours of taking Levonelle. You will need to take another dose or get an IUD fitted).

See your GP or a nurse if you think you might be pregnant, your next period is shorter or lighter than normal or seven days late, or if you have sudden pain in your lower stomach. For more information on the risks and benefits of the IUD, talk to your doctor.

Although all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it should not be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please speak to your doctor.

Authored Apr 15, 2021 by Joseph Issac, MPharm
Reviewed Apr 27, 2021 by Prabjeet Saundh, MPharm