The Morning After Pill

What's the morning after pill and how does it work?

The morning after pill is a form of emergency contraception that combines high doses of estrogen and progestin. Although it can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, or the failure of contraception, it is most effective if taken within the first 12-24 hours. The overall success rate of the morning after pill is around 75%. A woman can expect to begin menstruation anywhere from two to three weeks after taking the pill.

The morning after pill is essentially a combination (i.e. multiple doses taken at the same time) of birth control pills taken at prescribed intervals. Normally a woman is given two pills, which are to be taken immediately and two to be taken 12 hours later. If she vomits within 2 hours of taking the pills, she should then take two more pills.

The morning after pill is believed to work for several reasons. Primarily it functions by stimulating the uterine lining to slough off, either carrying the egg with it, or changing the uterine wall so that the egg cannot attach itself. It may also prevent ovulation, so that an egg is not released, (in much the same way as lower doses of estrogen and progestin do in birth control pills).

Although the morning after pill is simply a combination of birth control pills, women should not practice this method at home with someone else's pills or old pills of their own. These pills could be expired, let alone fail to terminate the pregnancy.

There are some side effects to using emergency contraception. Many women experience vomiting, nausea, headaches, and breast tenderness. It is suggested that a woman takes an anti-nausea medication at least an hour before beginning the morning after pill. There is also some debate over whether the morning after pill can damage the fetus in cases where it fails to terminate the pregnancy. A woman should ask her doctor or health provider whether she is a good candidate for the morning after pill. Similarly to the birth control pill, if a woman is over 35 and/or smokes she should consider an alternative. All side effects and treatment possibilities should be discussed with a woman's doctor or health provider.

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