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Are you worried the morning-after pill will give you unpleasant side effects? Here, we run you through the basic mechanism of emergency contraception and help you find out what to expect.

We live in a world with more contraceptive options than ever before, yet one thing is clear: regular contraceptives aren't always enough. Condoms break, women may suddenly realize they've forgotten to take the pill for a while, and unexpected sex has a way of happening, even to women who aren't using any birth control. In fact, roughly half of all pregnancies in the US are unintended. Though that doesn't necessarily mean they are also unwelcome, many women are desperate to avoid pregnancy even after the deed was done. That's where the morning-after pill comes in. 

Around 11 percent of American women aged between 15 and 44 have used the morning-after pill at some point in their lives. Most popular among younger women aged between 20 and 24, women use the morning-after pill because they are worried their contraceptive method failed and because they weren't using contraceptives at all in roughly equal amounts. Are you in a situation you think requires emergency contraception right now, or are you simply curious about what to expect from the morning-after pill? In this article, we'll answer your questions about the side effects of the morning-after pill.

What Is The Morning-After Pill, Exactly, And How Does It Work?

The term morning-after pill is a bit of a misnomer: women don't have to wait until the next day to take it, and some forms of emergency contraception are effective up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected intercourse now. The morning-after pill is a safe way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. It's also pretty effective — between 85 and 89 percent if taken within the recommended time frame. Because it's still less effective than regular contraception which can be more than 99 percent effective depending on the contraceptive and how it's used, the morning-after pill isn't recommended for routine use. Statistics show that most women don't use it more than once or twice, demonstrating that emergency contraception is used exactly in the manner intended by the majority of those who need it.

Morning-after pills can contain the active ingredient levonorgestrel (Plan B One Step and Next Choice One Dose, for instance), or ulipristal acetate (ella). These pills work by delaying ovulation, the release of an egg, and they may also prevent an egg from being fertilized. These pills are, contrary to popular belief, contraceptive pills and not abortion pills. Ella can be used up to five days after intercourse, while levonorgestrel-based pills are ideal within the first three days, though they can still be used on days four and five. 

Are There Any Alternatives To Morning-After Pills?

Yes. The Paragard copper intrauterine device can be used as an emergency contraceptive, up to five days after unprotected intercourse. At 99.9 percent effective, Paragard is an excellent choice for women want to do everything in their power to prevent pregnancy. What's more, the IUD is left in place afterwards, preventing pregnancy very effectively for up to 10 years. Essentially, you have emergency and long-term contraceptives in one if you choose this option. The Paraguard can indeed interfere with the implantation of an already fertilized egg, so it is not suitable for women who have religious or philosophical problems with that fact. The other downside is that it is a lot more expensive — while the morning-after pill will cost you up to $65, the copper IUD can cost thousands if not covered by insurance.

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