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The Morning After Pill: Myths Vs Reality
The Debrief: The most common myths and misconceptions about the Morning After Pill, busted.
Developed in partnership with and sponsored by HRA Pharma, manufacturer of ellaOne® (ulipristal acetate). The healthcare professionals included in the discussion do not endorse any specific brands
The morning after pill gets some bad press sometimes and with all the myths and scaremongering around it, it can be difficult to know what to believe. But the reality is that accidents can happen to anyone and it's great to know emergency contraception is there in, well, emergencies. We spoke to leading pharmacist Deborah Evans who is experienced in providing contraception advice and support to women, to help bust some of the myths around the morning after pill.
There's only one type of emergency contraception
There are actually two different types of emergency contraceptive pill, plus the lesser-known emergency coil, or IUD. Studies have found ellaOne to be the most effective emergency contraceptive pill, with the coil being the most effective method of emergency contraception overall. It does have to be fitted by a qualified health professional though, so you can't just nip to the pharmacy and buy one. To be extra safe, Deborah says: 'You could take the morning after pill and then make an appointment to discuss having the coil fitted to ensure you have a longer term method of contraception in place.'
You have to take it the morning after
No prizes for guessing where this myth comes from but no, the morning after pill does not have to be taken the morning after – so don't panic if you can't get to the pharmacy or clinic straight away. However, emergency contraception is more effective the sooner you take it so make sure you get it from a pharmacist or health care professional as soon as you can. The emergency coil is another option and can be fitted up to five days after unprotected sex. 'It's important for women to understand that, even if they can't get to a pharmacy within the first 24 hours, they can still have a conversation with the pharmacist a couple of days after,' Deborah says.
Emergency contraception is just as effective whenever you take it
Nope. The morning after pill is more effective the sooner you take it, and health pros recommend that, when possible, you should take it within 24 hours of unprotected sex. The morning after pill works by delaying or preventing ovulation (egg release) so the sperm is unable to make you pregnant. So the sooner you take it, the more chance there is of it working.
If you have unprotected sex after taking the morning after pill, you'll still be protected
Afraid not – 'the morning after pill is not an on-going contraceptive,' Deborah explains. 'You should use it just as an emergency, for that one episode of unprotected sex, and then you should be looking at either using a barrier method of contraception [that's condoms to you and me], or whatever longer term contraceptive method you choose.'
The morning after pill causes a mini abortion
'The emergency contraceptive pill delays an egg being released, so if you've got sperm in your reproductive system and it can't meet an egg, then you can't get pregnant,' Deborah explains. In other words, it only works before you're pregnant. If an egg has already been released, the morning after pill won't make any difference and that egg could still be fertilised and lead to a pregnancy – emergency contraception won't induce a miscarriage. Deborah says 'always come and talk to a pharmacist as it’s difficult to tell if you have ovulated and we can advise you of your best options.'
Using emergency contraception too often makes you infertile
Again, this is a myth. 'There's no evidence to suggest taking the morning after pill can lead to infertility,' Deborah says. 'There isn't a limit on how many times you can take it – so, for example, if you had unprotected sex one week and took the morning after pill, and then a couple of weeks later the condom broke, you could take another. However, it’s important to remember that emergency contraception should be viewed as a ‘back-up’ option only. If necessary you should speak to a health care professional to find a regular contraceptive method that works for you.'
It's fine to use the morning after pill instead of regular contraception
It is not ok to rely on the morning after pill as your regular method of contraception. 'It delays the egg being released, but it doesn't give you protection for the rest of that cycle. That's a recipe for disaster,' Deborah says. It's also less effective than other, regular methods of contraception, and who wants the faff of having to go to the pharmacy the day after every sexual encounter? 'It's much better to use condoms, in terms of protecting you against sexually transmitted diseases,' Deborah adds. 'But you've got the reassurance that it's there if the condom breaks.' If you are having an ongoing sexual relationship then you should see your HCP about the best regular method for you.
Emergency contraception is difficult to get hold of and expensive
If and when you need it, buying emergency contraception 'should be as simple as walking into the pharmacy and having a confidential consultation with the pharmacist,' Deborah explains. 'It's not an item where you could just pick it up off the shelf, but the pharmacist will take you into a room where you can have a private consultation, and they shouldn't be anything other than helpful and professional.'
Price wise, you're looking at around £25-35, which isn't cheap as chips but definitely a reasonable price to pay for peace of mind on a one-off occasion. Emergency contraception is free from your GP or sexual health clinic, and Deborah says some pharmacies also offer schemes where you can get it for free on the NHS. It's also worth bearing in mind that some pharmacies will let you purchase the morning after pill for 'just in case' in certain circumstances, like if you're going on holiday and relying on condoms.
ellaOne® (ulipristal acetate) is an emergency contraceptive pill. Take one tablet as soon as possible after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Always read the label.
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