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Your guide to the emergency contraceptive pill

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Contraceptive failure or having unprotected sex can create a stressful situation. There is something you can do to protect yourself – the risk of pregnancy can be reduced by taking the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) as soon as you can.

When getting to the doctor isn’t possible or practical, it’s good to know that an accredited ECP pharmacist is available at most Unichem Pharmacies for you to talk to and who can give you the ECP if appropriate.

How the emergency contraceptive pill works

The ECP prevents pregnancy by delaying the release of an egg from your ovary until sperm are no longer active, and changing the lining of your uterus so a fertilised egg cannot implant and develop.

The ECP is for emergency use only and is not a substitute for regular contraception.

The ECP’s effectiveness

The emergency contraceptive pill will be most effective if you take it as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Taking the ECP within 24 hours is best, but it can prevent pregnancy if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex.

The ECP has been shown to prevent:

  • 95% of expected pregnancies when taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex
  • 85% if taken within 25 - 48 hours
  • 58% if taken within 49 - 72 hours

It’s important to note that the ECP does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you have any concerns speak with your Unichem Pharmacist, doctor or family planning clinic.

Possible side effects

You may experience the following side effects but they should resolve within a few days:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting

If vomiting occurs within three hours of taking the ECP, another dose should be taken immediately. 

Your next period will probably come at the expected time, but it may be early or late, and it could be heavier than usual.

You should make an appointment to see your doctor immediately if:

  • Your next period is unusually light or heavy, more than 5 days late or, if you’re taking oral contraceptives and there is no bleeding in the pill-free interval
  • If you have any lower abdominal pain

Some precautions to take

Contraception

It’s recommended that you use a barrier contraceptive (condoms) until your next period.

If you use a contraceptive pill, keep taking the hormonal pills as normal and use additional barrier protection for seven days. If you have less than seven hormonal pills left in the packet, you should continue with the next pack and omit the seven day break or placebo (sugar) tablets.

Pregnancy

The emergency contraceptive pill is generally safe to take while breastfeeding, but check with your Unichem Pharmacist or doctor if you are concerned.

Tania – Pharmacist, Unichem Albany Metro, Auckland