Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
What to know about emergency contraceptives (morning-after pill)
Emergency contraceptives (ECs) commonly known as the morning after pill refers to the methods of contraception used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy following unprotected sex. They can also be used in cases where there is a possibility of other contraceptives failure or incorrect use. These can include – broken or slipped condom, inconsistency in taking monthly pills, or in case of rape and/or incest. The Emergency contraceptives work by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg (a process known as ovulation). Or by stopping the sperm from penetrating the released egg (fertilization).
The emergency contraceptives methods are available in two formulations. As oral contraceptives (morning after pill) and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Both methods are safe and effective if used as per instructions. That is: within 3 – 5 days of unprotected sex. The efficacy however decreases with each passing day, which means the sooner you take it the better.
Examples of emergency contraceptives
Some of the registered and commonly used emergency contraceptives in South Africa include Norlevo and Escapella which are known as progestogen-only regimens. The active ingredient in these products is Levonorgestrel. Other products that are safe and effective but not registered specifically for this use include Microval and Nordette tablets. Plan B is also one of the commonly used and approved pills. But it appears to have more side effects compared to progestogen-only regimens and it is taken in two divided doses as opposed to progestogen-only pills which are taken once.
To ensure proper use and dosage, as well as more information on the choice of contraception, make sure to ask the the pharmacists (or other healthcare professionals) to explain and answer questions upon purchase of the morning-after pill.
Accessing emergency contraceptives
Emergency contraceptives are available for everyone. Regardless of age or sexual status. And can be purchased over the counter in the pharmacy. This means you do not need to see a doctor or get a prescription to purchase these products and you don’t have to be of a certain age to be allowed to use it. However, in cases where an IUD is preferred, medical assessment by a doctor is essential before inserting the device.
Like every other medication, the use of contraceptives may come with side effects depending on the method, duration, frequency, dosage, and the individual’s overall wellbeing. The side effects may include headaches, abdominal pains, nausea, and sometimes menstrual changes which may last for a few days. These side effects come with the medication and do not imply that there is something wrong with you or the medication.
If the pill is vomited within two hours of taking it, the medication won’t work. This means another pill should be taken immediately or consider another emergency contraceptive method like inserting an IUD.
Long term use of emergency contraceptives
And whilst the morning after pill is considered an emergency contraceptive. It is important to note that it is just that, for emergencies ONLY. And should not be used in place of other contraceptives such as condoms or the pill. As using the morning after pill too many times can have long lasting effects on your hormones and body.