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How Does Plan B Work?

Plan B One-Step is a very popular kind of emergency contraception that protects against pregnancy if you take it within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. Don’t make any mistake about this, however: the sooner you take Plan B, the more likely it is to be effective. That is, statistics show that this “morning-after pill” is 95 percent effective if you take it within 24 hours, a percentage that drops to 89 percent if you take it within 72 hours. Plan B is also less effective than the regular birth control pill. As such, it should never be relied on as a main source of birth control, however, because accidents do happen and Plan B is more effective the sooner it is taken, women of reproductive age may consider having the morning-after pill in their personal medicine cabinet at all times.

In terms of its mechanism of action, Plan B can delay or prevent ovulation as well as prevent the implantation of any already fertilized egg into the uterus.

What If It Has Been Longer Than 72 Hours?

Have you had unprotected sex but have 72 hours already passed? You still have options. Studies have shown that “ella”, another emergency contraceptive pill, can be effective up to five days after having unprotected sex. The Paragard intrauterine device is another option at your disposal. This can be inserted up to five days after unprotected sex as well, and at more than 99 percent efficacy, it is in fact your safest bet. An added benefit of having the Paragard coil is that it serves as long-term contraception as well.

Menstrual Changes Following Plan B

Some women will experience light spotting after they take Plan B, something that can sometimes be confused for a menstrual period but isn't — this spotting will take place shortly after taking Plan B. The majority of those women who used Plan B will get their period at the expected time or a little early, but some find that their period is delayed slightly. 

It is possible for your menstruation to change slightly as the result of Plan B use. This is mostly an issue for women who frequently use this emergency contraceptive, and for those who have taken it more than once in one menstrual cycle. In those cases, your period may be lighter or heavier than usual, and your cycle length may increase or decrease. 

Remember, Plan B is not meant to be used as a substitute for regular birth control, and if you find yourself using it often, you are better off looking into a reliable form of long-term contraception, such as the combined oral contraceptive pill, the Mirena or Paragard intrauterine devices, or depo Provera. 

Can You Have ‘Pregnancy Symptoms’ After Taking Plan B?

Absolutely! You may be surprised to hear that, although many women who take Plan B do not experience any obvious side effects, some do. The side effects those women do have may well mimic pregnancy symptoms. Nausea and vomiting, fatigue, abdominal discomfort or cramps, breast tenderness and headache are all possible in women who have recently taken Plan B. In addition, taking this emergency contraceptive can alter the normal patterns of your menstrual cycle, leading to you not having your period when you expected it.

All of these side effects may well lead you to suspect that Plan B did not work for you, but that does not have to be the case. Remember, the sooner you took Plan B, the more likely it is that it was effective at protecting you against an unwanted pregnancy.

Should your period still not have arrived three weeks after taking Plan B, it is time for you to do a pregnancy test.

What If You Are Pregnant Despite Taking Plan B?

Studies have not shown that there is an increased risk of birth defects or other pregnancy complications if you get pregnant despite the morning-after pill. However, should you still not wish to proceed with the pregnancy, you are advised to seek an abortion as soon as possible — depending on where you live, waiting periods may apply.

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