Emergency Contraception


What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception (EC) is a dose of progestogen (levonorgestrel) taken after sexual intercourse to reduce the risk of pregnancy. It’s sometimes wrongly called the morning-after pill, because it can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex, although it’s more effective the sooner it’s taken.

The progestogen in EC works mainly by delaying the release of an egg by the ovary (ovulation).

It may also work by changing the lining of the uterus so a fertilised egg can’t take hold, and may make the mucus (sticky fluid) at the opening of the uterus thicker so sperm can’t get through.

Emergency contraception DOES NOT cause an abortion.

You could take EC if there was a risk of unwanted pregnancy.

This would include:

  • unprotected intercourse
  • sexual assault
  • contraceptive failure (e.g. the condom breaks or you are on the Pill and have missed two or more consecutive hormonal pills)

If you are not sure whether you are at risk of pregnancy contact SHine SA’s Sexual Healthline or talk to your local pharmacist, doctor or women’s health nurse.

EC is very effective (95%) if taken in the first 24 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse. The effectiveness decreases the longer you wait. If taken within two days it is about 85% effective.

It may be used up to 5 days (120 hours) after intercourse, but at this time the effectiveness is about 60%.

EC is available over the counter at pharmacies. You can also get it at SHine SA clinics, Clinic 275, Pregnancy Advisory Centre and many public hospital emergency departments.

Some pharmacists may not supply EC if you had unprotected sex over 72 hours ago as these are the recommendations in the product information.

Prices vary. The cost depends on where you get it.

Take the tablet as soon as possible.

You can take Emergency Contraception more than once in the same menstrual cycle if you need to, but it may be less effective. However, it is important to take it again if you have had further unprotected sex and you want to reduce the risk of pregnancy.

If you vomit within two hours of taking EC you will need to take another dose.

EC can occasionally cause nausea, breast pain, dizziness, tiredness, headaches and spot bleeding. Side effects usually stop within two days. If you are worried about any side effects see a doctor.

Taking EC will not affect a pregnancy or harm a developing foetus.

For most women the next period will come at the normal time. A few may be early and up to 30% may be up to a week late.

If your period does not come within 3-4 weeks of taking EC do a pregnancy test. If you have any other concerns see your doctor or contact SHine SA’s Sexual Healthline for advice.

It’s safe to use EC when you are breastfeeding. It will not decrease your milk supply. Some progestogen may come through the milk, but there is no evidence this harms your baby.

EC does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you had unprotected sex it’s best to get tested. This is normally done two to three weeks after unprotected sex. You can go to your doctor, a SHine SA clinic or Clinic 275. A condom is the only form of contraception that will reduce the risk of STIs.

It’s best to take EC within 24 hours.

You can get EC over the counter at pharmacies. Think about taking it with you when travelling.

Taking EC does not reduce the risk of pregnancy if you have further unprotected sex, so it’s a good idea to consider ongoing contraception. You can contact SHine SA to discuss your options.


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