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Here’s a not-so-fun scenario for you: The condom broke or was never on in the first place (it happens), and you’re not on any type of birth control atm. Your move? Find your nearest pharmacy and pick up Plan B. Well, that’s easier said than done these days after the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, which unsurprisingly has led to the morning-after pill literally flying off the shelves. Digital health provider Favor confirms that there was a recent 800 percent increase in account creations for birth control services and more than a 5,000 percent jump in emergency contraception orders in the 72 hours following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision alone. (Keep on scrolling for more info about where to get emergency contraceptives right now.)
Let’s address the actual emergency contraception pill for a sec though. As with pretty much anything that has to do with the reproductive system, there are (1) potential side effects of taking Plan B and (2) a host of truly bonkers misinformation out there (hi, it’s not an abortion—but more on that later). So it makes total sense that you’re reading this right now.
Before we get into it, let me quickly put your mind at ease: Plan B is a very effective, incredibly safe form of emergency contraception that stops a pregnancy from happening. Still, you might experience some unpleasant side effects. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Plan B?
Simply, Plan B is an over-the-counter (OTC) pill that contains a highly concentrated dose of hormones to block a pregnancy after unprotected P-in-V intercourse has occurred. Per Planned Parenthood, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, the morning-after pill can decrease your chance of getting pregnant by 79 to 89 percent.
“When taken correctly, Plan B solely prevents a pregnancy from ever occurring and cannot prevent or end a pregnancy that has already happened,” explains ob-gyn Tia Jackson-Bey, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York. It takes five to seven days for the sperm and egg to meet, and Plan B is meant to be taken within 72 hours, aka before this meetup happens.
One thing to note: Unfortunately, Plan B may be less effective in people with a weight of 155 pounds or higher. “If you’re worried that Plan B may not work for you because of your weight, consider reaching out to your ob-gyn and using an alternative form of emergency contraception, like the copper IUD,” suggests Dr. Jackson-Bey. You have a five-day window after unprotected sex to get a copper IUD, but they are super effective at preventing a pregnancy from happening, adds Savita Ginde, MD, interim health care strategy executive for Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center and former chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. Basically, the copper in the IUD creates a toxic environment for sperm, preventing them from reaching an egg and also preventing an egg from implanting in the uterus, according to Dr. Ginde. That’s just one option though—if you don’t wanna go through an IUD insertion, there are other brands of emergency contraception besides Plan B that may be more effective if you weigh more than 155 pounds.
And if you don’t have a regular medical provider or if you’re feeling nervous about speaking with any reproductive health care providers right now (understandable), check out Bedsider for more info on the emergency contraception options out there for you.
Where can I get Plan B right now?
Did ya know that Plan B has a shelf life of about four years? So it’s not a bad idea to grab a pack or two to have on hand for when emergencies pop up, especially if you’re in a state where access to abortion is limited (the only good news is that emergency contraception is still legal!).
Hopefully, your local pharmacy has some Plan B on the shelf when you arrive. You don’t need a prescription for Plan B, Dr. Ginde explains, and it’ll likely cost you between $35 and $50 at the checkout counter. You can get the morning-after pill for free if you have Medicaid, and you can access low-cost or free emergency contraception from your local Planned Parenthood or reproductive health clinic (provided those are still open, of course). If there’s no way of accessing Plan B near you, don’t worry. You can order emergency contraception online with super-fast shipping from services like Nurx, Favor, and Wisp.
Dr. Ginde notes that it’s safe for you to take emergency contraception as often as needed, but you don’t wanna rely on your stock of Plan B pills as your regular form of birth control. “These pills are also less effective than other forms of regular and routine birth control,” says Dr. Ginde. “If you find yourself using them more than a couple of times, talk with your provider about the many (more effective) forms of birth control that can be reliably used on a regular basis.”
What actually happens when I take Plan B?
Again, Plan B is *not* the same as an abortion pill, but it will work with your body to prevent a pregnancy from ever occurring. Just make sure you do in fact need it before you take it. “If you are taking your birth control as directed, there isn’t a need to take Plan B or another type of emergency contraceptive,” Dr. Ginde says. But if you’re not taking birth control or if you skipped a pill and didn’t have a backup form of contraception like condoms, this is where emergency contraception comes in handy. Here’s how it all goes down.
Plan B’s active ingredient is levonorgestrel, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone that’s found in many hormonal birth controls. The difference here, per Dr. Jackson-Bey, is that there’s a much higher dosage of levonorgestrel compared to regular contraception.
“This large, concentrated dose disrupts the body’s normal hormone patterns, which is why it’s so time-sensitive,” she explains. “This delays ovulation, preventing fertilization.” How? Well, if you’re not ovulating, there’s no egg hanging around the fallopian tubes for the sperm to meet up with. And per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, sperm can chill in the body for up to five days. So…I guess you could call this the only good form of ghosting?
On top of said ghosting, that extra oomph of hormones also thickens your cervical mucus. The thicker the cervical mucus, the less likely it is for sperm to even reach the fallopian tubes, Dr. Jackson-Bey says.
And if you had unprotected P-in-V intercourse around the time you normally ovulate? “Don’t push the 72-hour rule—you should take Plan B as soon as you can,” explains Dr. Jackson-Bey.
What are the side effects of Plan B?
I’m so glad you asked! While Dr. Jackson-Bey stresses that they do vary from person to person, general side effects of Plan B include the following:
Changes in your menstrual cycle (like irregular bleeding or late periods)
Gastrointestinal problems (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, etc.)
Yeah, you can thank the levonorgestrel for all those fun things. If any of these symptoms look familiar to you, you’re correct. They’re suuuper similar to early pregnancy symptoms, which is the last thing you want to hear after taking emergency contraception. Luckily, when taken correctly, within 72 hours of intercourse, Plan B does its job. But if you’re still stressed about getting pregnant, pop by your provider for extra security. It can’t hurt, right?
How long do Plan B side effects usually last?
Again, it totally varies from person to person—but here’s what Dr. Jackson-Bey says you might expect:
Day 1: After taking the pill, you might have some mild side effects. Some people experiencing nausea may end up vomiting within a couple of hours of taking the pill, so it’s important to take another dose to make sure it’s effective.
Days 2 to 3: You’ll continue to feel mild side effects like headache, fatigue, breast tenderness, etc.
Days 4 to 5: At this point, most people are no longer feeling their side effects, but you may have some lingering breast tenderness or headaches.
The next few weeks to a month: Menstrual changes are super common here. Depending on when you took the pill in your cycle, you may skip your period or have irregular spotting.
However, if you’re continuing to feel the same side effects after a week—or if they have gotten worse and include severe abdominal pain on one side or excessive vomiting—pick up the phone and see your doctor. Or if you are experiencing extreme symptoms of an allergic reaction, like hives, trouble breathing, or swelling in your face, lips, tongue, or throat, that’s a rare but serious red flag to seek medical attention ASAP, Dr. Ginde says.
And before you stress, Plan B will *not* eff up your menstrual cycle in any way. After about a month or so, it should return to its normal crampy self.
How can I relieve Plan B side effects?
Yeah, if you’re feeling even remotely sh*tty, I get that you wanna find a quick fix. The most important thing Dr. Jackson-Bey suggests is to stay hydrated. Meanwhile, any headaches or breast tenderness can be treated with an OTC painkiller like Advil or Tylenol.
Otherwise, just rest up! Feeling fatigued? Acknowledge that you’re feeling off for a reason and curl up with a good Netflix show. Remember that this is totally temporary and you *will* be back to normal soon.
The bottom line
Plan B is a perfectly safe and easily accessible pill to take when you’re in need of emergency contraception. While you might feel a few side effects, overall you’ll probably find them to be super mild and manageable. Still, if you’re nervous that the emergency contraception didn’t work for whatever reason or your side effects are lasting longer than a handful of days, make an appointment to see your provider.
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