What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception reduces the chance of pregnancy after unprotected sex.

You can take emergency contraception in situations such as when contraception was not used, a condom broke or slipped off, if you were unsure if a condom was used, oral contraception pills were missed, if you think a diaphragm dislodged, etc.

What methods of emergency contraception are available?

There are two types of emergency contraception:

  1. Emergency contraception pill
    Emergency contraception pill is taken orally as soon as you can after an episode of unprotected sex. You need to ensure you have had your first pill within 72 hours (three days). The sooner you take the pills the more effective they are. The pills contain doses of female hormones. Sometimes they may be oestrogen and progestogen together, and at other times they might just be progestogen.
  2. IUD (Intra Uterine Device)
    A IUD is a device inserted by a doctor into the uterus (womb). It needs to be inserted within five days of unprotected sex and can be used to provide long term contraception. It may not be suitable for some women and is not suitable for women who experience frequent changes of sexual partners as this increases the risk of pelvic infection.

How does the emergency contraception pill work?

Emergency contraception pill can work in two ways. If ovulation (the release of an egg from a woman's ovaries) has not already occurred it can delay ovulation so fertilisation can not occur. If ovulation has already occurred, it can stop a fertilised egg being implanted in the uterus. This means that a pregnancy can not develop. The pills do not dislodge an egg that has already been implanted in the uterus.

How reliable is the emergency contraception pill?

The risk of pregnancy after taking emergency contraception pill is estimated to be low. It has been shown that the sooner you take the pill after an episode of unprotected sex the more reliable it is. So if you can take it within 12 hours or 24 hours of unprotected sex you significantly increase the chances it will work.

What side effects are involved in taking emergency contraception pills?

If you take emergency contraception pills you may feel some side effects. Side effects can include nausea and vomiting. Tablets can be taken to prevent the onset of side effects.

Should I keep on taking other contraception?

It is important that you continue using other contraception during and after taking the emergency contraception pill. If you don't do so you could still become pregnant.

Remember emergency contraception pill is for emergencies only and should not to be used as a regular contraceptive. Keep in mind emergency contraception pills fail to protect you from HIV and other STIs.

Follow up

If your next period is more than one week late, or you have other concerns, you need to contact your doctor. You need to also consider tests for STIs.

How to I obtain emergency contraception?

You can get emergency contraception from a pharmacy without a prescription (over the counter) or from a Family Planning NSW clinic or from most Sexual Health Services.

If you want to know more call 1800 451 624 between 9:00am and 5:30pm Monday to Friday to talk with a sexual health nurse. It’s confidential and free if you call from a landline.
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Page Updated: Thursday 10 January 2019
Contact page owner: Centre for Population Health