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You have likely heard about the morning-after pill (emergency contraception) and may know of some women who have taken it before. Often women take it soon after intercourse to prevent any possibility of being pregnant.
What exactly is the morning after pill?
- It is a drug intended to be taken as soon as possible within the first 72 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.
- It contains a high dose of a progesterone (levonorgestrel) which is found in many kinds of birth control pills.
- It is often referred to by the brand name “Plan B”
How does it work?
Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, the pill could affect you in one in three ways:
- It may prevent ovulation: The egg will not be released to meet the sperm– so fertilization, sometimes known as conception, can’t occur.
- It may affect the lining of your fallopian tubes so that sperm cannot reach the egg. This also prevents fertilization.
- It may irritate the lining of your uterus. If an egg has already been released and fertilized by the sperm, this irritation could make it harder for the conceived embryo to implant in your uterus.
Are there any potential side effects?
Yes, you could possibly experience several short-term side effects when taking the morning-after pill. These could include:
- Irregular and unpredictable menstrual periods
- Cramping and abdominal pain– (which also might be a sign of ectopic pregnancy*… please see next question)
- Breast tenderness
* It is possible that abdominal pain and cramping that may result from the use of the morning-after pill can mask the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy which requires emergency care.
What is an Ectopic Pregnancy & why does it matter?
- This is a potentially life threatening condition in which a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus– most often in the fallopian tubes.
- The morning-after pill will not end an ectopic pregnancy.
- If you have severe abdominal pain three to five weeks after using the morning-after pill, please see your health care professional to rule out an ectopic pregnancy.
- If an embryo is growing in a fallopian tube, you will need to seek emergency care.
What happens if I use emergency contraception after fertilization?
- The high dose of levonorgestrel found in the morning-after pill may irritate the lining of your uterus.
- That irritation may keep the embryo that has been conceived from implanting.
Why may this be of concern to you?
Depending on your beliefs about when life begins, if you believe that it begins at conception then this would be considered an early abortion.
*After the sperm penetrates and fertilizes the egg, the DNA for that embryo is complete: 46 human chromosomes come together in a one-of-a-kind genetic design that determines a person’s eye and hair color, gender, skin tone, height and even the intricate swirl on the fingerprints.
How can I know if an egg has been fertilized?
That is the problem… you can’t know.
We do know that sperm can reach the fallopian tubes mere minutes after intercourse and if an egg has already been released, fertilization could occur. There is a possibility that by the time you wake up on the morning after, that conception could have already occurred.
Dihle, Vicki L. (2012). The Morning After Pill. [Booklet]. Focus on the Family.
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