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Emergency Contraception
What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception is used after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. It is sometimes called EC or "the morning after pill." EC works best if you use it right away. It can be used for up to five days after sex. Use EC if:

  • You think your birth control failed.
  • You didn't use contraception.
  • You were forced to have sex.
There are some other options for emergency contraception. The Copper T IUD can be used as EC for up to 5 days after unprotected sex. Taking several birth control pills at one time may also work. Only certain brands of birth control pills can be taken in large doses as EC. Talk with a health care professional if you want to use birth control pills as EC.

How effective is emergency contraception?

The sooner you take EC, the better. EC can be taken up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex.

How does emergency contraception work?

The hormones in the pills may do several things to prevent pregnancy, including:

  • Stopping your ovaries from releasing eggs.
  • Causing cervical mucus to thicken. This blocks the opening to your uterus so sperm can't reach an egg.
  • Making the lining of your uterus thin. This prevents an egg from attaching to the uterus.
If you are already pregnant, EC will not work. If you do not get your period within a month of taking EC, you should take a pregnancy test.

What are the benefits of using emergency contraception?

  • EC is very safe.
  • EC can prevent pregnancy after sex. It gives you a second chance to avoid pregnancy after an unprotected sexual experience or if you had a problem using your regular method of birth control.
What are the downsides of using emergency contraception?

  • EC does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • EC will not work if you are already pregnant.
  • EC might make you feel dizzy, tired, or feel like throwing up.
  • EC can cause stomach pain, sore breasts, irregular bleeding, or headaches.
  • EC is less effective at preventing pregnancy than some other birth control methods. It should not be used as your regular form of birth control. It can cause irregular periods with frequent use.
Where can I get emergency contraception?

  • If you are 17 or older, you can get Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, or Levonorgestrel without a prescription from most drugstores. It is stocked behind the counter, so you will need to ask for it. You may be asked to show proof of your age (ID). Both women and men can purchase Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, or Levonorgestrel.
  • If you are 16 or younger, you will need a prescription from a health care professional to get Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, or Levonorgestrel. You then take the prescription to your drugstore to get it. 
  • Women of all ages need a prescription from a health care professional to get ella. 
It is always a good idea to keep EC on hand in case of an accident. If you already have EC, you can take it quickly after unprotected sex.

For more information on emergency contraception, talk to your pharmacist or health care provider. Another great resource is

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Emergency Contraception
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Quick Facts
Moderately Effective (75-89%)
Timing of
use or replacement:
Can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex
Requires visit to healthcare provider:
Protection from STDs/STIs:
Para información en Español: