Your emergency contraception info package: what to expect after taking the morning-after pill

While emergency contraception can provide peace of mind during an unexpected situation, for many people taking it for the first time they’re curious about what to expect after taking it and how it affects the menstrual cycle afterwards.

Let’s go through the most common experiences, potential side effects you may encounter, as well as giving you some sisterly love and support. No matter what happens, we’ve got you.

Emergency contraception, also known as the "morning-after pill", is a tablet taken to prevent pregnancy after you’ve had unprotected sex. It works by delaying or stopping the release of an egg. Unprotected sex can also include a contraceptive failure such as a condom has split or come off, or you forget to take your daily contraceptive pill.

Before taking the morning-after pill

First and foremost, timing matters. The effectiveness of emergency contraception decreases the longer you wait to take it after unprotected sex. It's most effective when taken as soon as possible, ideally within the first 24 hours, but it can be taken up to 72 hours (Levonelle) or up to 120 hours (ellaOne). If you don’t want to get pregnant and you’ve had unprotected sex, we recommend you take it straight away.

Side effects of the morning-after pill

After taking emergency contraception, some people may experience side effects, but they’re usually mild and temporary. These can include:

Common side effects

  • Nausea: You may feel nauseous after taking the pill. Taking it with food can help reduce this side effect.
  • Fatigue: Some people report feeling tired or fatigued after taking emergency contraception. Take the rest of the day off to relax and rest. It can also be a huge mental load and cause some anxiety and worry, so be sure to clear your mind with something uplifting.

Less common side effects

  • Vomiting: In some cases, the morning-after pill may make you vomit. If you vomit within two hours of taking the pill, it's advisable to contact a healthcare provider, as you may need to take another dose.
  • Breast tenderness: You may notice increased breast tenderness as a temporary side effect.
  • Headaches or dizziness: Some people may experience a mild headache or some dizziness after taking the morning-after pill. If it’s severe, contact your healthcare provider.

All the side effects would typically last a few hours for most people, but no more than a couple of days at most. If you experience severe or persistent side effects, consult your healthcare provider for further advice.

Your next period

Taking emergency contraception can affect your next menstrual cycle and you may find your next period comes earlier or later than expected. You might also find it’s either a lighter OR heavier period bleed than usual. However, these changes should normalise in your next few cycles.

If your period is more than a week late, it's a good idea to take a pregnancy test to rule out pregnancy. Remember, the morning-after pill is not 100% effective. It’s only effective if you’ve not already ovulated as it works by preventing or delaying the release of an egg (ovulation). If you’re unsure if you’ve ovulated or not, it’s still best to take it after unprotected sex as there’s a chance it will still be effective in preventing pregnancy.

Thinking longer term

Additionally, if you have unprotected sex multiple times or are frequently relying on emergency contraception, consider a regular contraceptive method such as the daily pill which is a more reliable method of preventing pregnancy.

Already taking a contraceptive pill?

If you were using regular birth control, such as the daily contraceptive, before taking the morning-after pill, continue using it as you were before and as prescribed. Emergency contraception does not provide ongoing contraception, so you are still fertile after taking it and you may still be at risk of pregnancy if you do not resume your regular contraceptive method. 

Other things to consider

1. STI risk: Emergency contraception doesn’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if you’ve had unprotected sex with a partner whose STI status is unknown or high risk. We recommend if you’re in this situation, consider getting tested for STIs. Not everyone shows symptoms, so it’s worth getting checked.

2. Emotional wellbeing: Taking the morning-after pill can bring about many emotions and thoughts if it’s the first time or you’ve found yourself in a sticky situation. It’s probably been an emotional rollercoaster to figure out your options and what you’re going to do. Also, experiencing an unplanned pregnancy can be a huge scare for some and be emotionally distressing, as for others it can also be a pleasant surprise. It's important to reach out to a supportive friend, family member, or healthcare professional if you're feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Our DM’s are always open too.

Please reach out to us if you have questions or concerns regarding emergency contraception. And remember that taking care of your reproductive health involves not only using contraception, but also being informed about your options and seeking appropriate medical advice when needed.

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