- Parents Home
- Allergy Center
- Asthma Center
- Cancer Center
- Cerebral Palsy Center
- Diabetes Center
- A to Z
- Emotions & Behavior
- First Aid & Safety
- Food Allergy Center
- General Health
- Growth & Development
- Flu Center
- Heart Health
- Helping With Homework
- Diseases & Conditions
- Nutrition & Fitness Center
- Play & Learn Center
- School & Family Life
- Pregnancy & Newborn Center
- Sports Medicine Center
- Summer Safety
- Doctors & Hospitals
- Preventing Premature Birth
- Para Padres
- Kids Home
- Asthma Center for Kids
- Cancer Center for Kids
- Movies & More
- Diabetes Center for Kids
- Getting Help
- Puberty & Growing Up
- Health Problems of Grown-Ups
- Health Problems
- Homework Center
- How the Body Works
- Illnesses & Injuries
- Nutrition & Fitness Center for Kids
- Recipes & Cooking for Kids
- Staying Healthy
- Stay Safe Center
- Relax & Unwind Center
- Q&A for Kids
- The Heart
- Videos for Kids
- Staying Safe
- Kids' Medical Dictionary
- Para Niños
- Teens Home
- Asthma Center for Teens
- Be Your Best Self
- Cancer Center for Teens
- Diabetes Center for Teens
- Diseases & Conditions (for Teens)
- Drugs & Alcohol
- Expert Answers (Q&A)
- Flu Center for Teens
- Homework Help for Teens
- Infections (for Teens)
- Managing Your Medical Care
- Managing Your Weight
- Nutrition & Fitness Center for Teens
- Recipes for Teens
- Safety & First Aid
- School & Work
- Sexual Health
- Sports Center
- Stress & Coping Center
- Videos for Teens
- Para Adolescentes
About Emergency Contraception
What Is Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception is a way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. Often called the morning-after pill, emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) are pills that can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex. Some types of emergency contraception work best when taken within 72 hours (3 days) after intercourse.
The IUD can sometimes be used as a form of emergency contraception.
How Does Emergency Contraception Work?
Emergency contraceptive pills work by delaying (the release of an egg during the monthly cycle). If fertilization and implantation have already happened, ECPs will not interrupt the pregnancy.
How Well Does Emergency Contraception Work?
About 1 or 2 in every 100 women who use ECPs will become pregnant despite taking the pills within 72 hours after having unprotected sex.
The "morning-after" name is somewhat misleading: You don't have to wait until the next morning to take ECPs. Emergency contraception is most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex.
Emergency contraception will not prevent pregnancy if unprotected sex happens after taking the ECPs.
Emergency contraception does not prevent all pregnancies. So a woman should see a doctor if she doesn't get her next expected period after taking ECPs.
Does Emergency Contraception Help Prevent STDs?
Are There Any Side Effects With Emergency Contraception?
ECPs can cause some minor side effects for a few days, including:
- breast tenderness
These usually are minor, and most improve within 1 to 2 days. A girl's menstrual period may be temporarily irregular after she takes ECPs.
Who Can Use Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception is an option for a couple if:
- a condom breaks or slips off
- a diaphragm or cervical cap slips out of place
- birth control pills are missed for 2 days in a row
ECPs are also available to young women who are forced to have unprotected sex.
Emergency contraception is not recommended:
- for females who know they are pregnant
- as a regular birth control method (it's designed for emergencies)
Where Is Emergency Contraception Available?
Some types of emergency contraceptive pills are available over the counter at drugstores and pharmacies for anyone of any age without a prescription.
One type of emergency contraception (which works well up to 5 days after unprotected sex) is only available by prescription.
An IUD used for emergency contraception needs to be placed by a doctor or . This can be done at a doctor's office or a health clinic, like Planned Parenthood.
How Much Does Emergency Contraception Cost?
Depending on the type of pills prescribed, ECPs cost between $15–$70. Many health insurance plans cover the cost of emergency contraception and family planning clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) charge much less.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Someone who uses emergency contraception should call the doctor if she:
- might be pregnant
- has a change in the smell or color of her vaginal discharge
- has unexplained fever or chills
- has belly or pelvic pain
- has pain during sex
- has heavy or long-lasting vaginal bleeding
- Answering Questions About Sex
- About Birth Control: What Parents Need to Know
- Your Daughter's First Gynecology Visit
- Sexual Development
- Should Girls Who Aren't Sexually Active Be Vaccinated Against HPV?
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995- KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.