Birth Control 101: Emergency Contracption

SELF magazine

Almost half of survey takers have either had an unplanned pregnancy or used emergency contraception following a pregnancy scare. Here's what you need to know about the morning-after pill.

How exactly does it work?
The morning-after pill prevents pregnancy by prohibiting or delaying ovulation, explains Kathleen Hill-Besinque, Pharm.D., associate professor of clinical pharmacy at the USC School of Pharmacy. It is not an abortion pill. Research shows that if you take it after the fertilized egg has implanted in the uterine wall, the medication just won't work.

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When do I take it?
Depending on the brand (more on that later), you can take emergency contraception up to five days after unprotected sex, but the sooner you take it, the more likely it is to work, Hill-Besinque says. Fewer than one in four women will have minor side effects such as nausea or cramps for the first 24 hours, but most are able to go about their day with no problems.

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Which pill should I take?
Plan B One-Step and Next Choice contain progestin, one of the hormones in birth control pills, and work best if taken within three days of unprotected sex. Ella, which contains ulipristal acetate, a drug that delays ovulation, can be taken up to five days after sex.

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How do I get it?
Plan B and Next Choice are available at the pharmacy counter without a prescription if you're 17 or older. Ella requires a prescription regardless of age. Ask your doc for an Rx, and get it filled-then you have it on hand if needed.

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