Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraception, also known as the morning after pill, is readily available and has been used by women for more than 30 years to help reduce the chance of pregnancy after birth control failure or unprotected sex. Pills can be forgotten, condoms can break (especially if they are exposed to heat, sunlight or oil-based lubricants), alcohol can compromise judgment about using an effective method of contraception for sex, or someone may force or intimidate a woman to have unprotected sex. These are all situations where emergency contraception can be taken to reduce the risk of pregnancy. Emergency contraception is a back-up method of preventing pregnancy, and is not meant to be used routinely for birth control, and does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

How Does it Work?

Emergency contraception (Plan B One-Step or a generic equivalent now available) is a single dose pill of levonorgestrel, a hormone found in birth control pills.  It works in a number of ways to reduce the chance of pregnancy if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. It works mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary for several days. It may also work by preventing fertilization of an egg (the uniting of sperm with an egg) or by preventing attachment of a fertilized egg to the lining of the uterus. Emergency contraception will not have any effect if you are already pregnant. 

How Do I Get Emergency Contraception at W&L?

Emergency contraception is available at the Student Health Center without an appointment—please come to the SHC and talk to the nurse on duty if you want to consider taking it. The nurse will ask you a few brief questions and explain how it works, what to expect, cost, etc. Emergency contraception is also available at many pharmacies without a prescription for those ages 17 or older—you must request and sign for it at the pharmacy window. 

How Effective is Emergency Contraception in Preventing Pregnancy?

The sooner you take emergency contraception the better it will work—take it as soon as possible after birth control failure or unprotected sex. If taken within 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex it will significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy—7 out of every 8 women who would have gotten pregnant will not become pregnant. It may still be effective at reducing pregnancy risl if taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex. Most women will get their next menstrual period on time or within 1 week of the expected time. If your period is delayed beyond 1 week, or you have sever lower abdominal pain 3 to 5 weeks after taking emergency contraception, you should get a pregnancy test and follow up with a health care professional right away.

Are There Any Side-Effects?

Some women who take emergency contraception will have mild, temporary side effects such as:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • breast pain
  • lower abdominal discomfort
  • menstrual changes

If you vomit within 2 hours of taking the medication you may need to repeat the dose with a second medication to reduce nausea and vomiting. You should not take emergency contraception if you are allergic to levonorgestrel, or if you know you are already pregnant (because it won't work).

Nurses are available at the SHC to speak with students about emergency contraception 24/7. To make an appointment to see a physician call the SHC at 540-458-8401.

For more information about emergency contraception you can talk to a health care professional, call the Emergency Contraception Hotline at 1-888-NOT-2-LATE, or go to www.not-2-late.com or www.PlanBOneStep.com.