I've heard of it, but what actually is it?
In a very basic nutshell, the morning after pill is emergency contraception. That means it can prevent a pregnancy after unprotected sex, or if you've messed up your normal choice of contraception. For example, if you forget to take your pill or the condom splits, the morning after pill is available to take to make sure that you don't end up pregnant as a result. Simple.
How exactly does it work?
Time for a science lesson. If you have sex without a condom around the time of ovulation, the sperm will sit around in the cervix and the top part of your vagina for around 5-7 days. Kinda gross when you think about it like that, but that's where the morning after pill comes in.
It works by delaying your ovulation (aka the monthly release of an egg from your ovaries), meaning there'll be no egg travelling down the fallopian tubes towards the womb to be fertilised, until after the sperm has all gone. So yep, that means no pregnancy can occur.
How reliable is it?
Your six day fertility window is completely unreliable and you're at risk of pregnancy throughout your whole cycle, but the morning after pill is still a very reliable and very effective form of emergency contraception. Overall failure rate is only around 2%, and the sooner you take it, the more effective it is.
Are there different types available?
There are indeed. There are two different kinds of emergency contraceptive pill available to you if you're in the UK - Levonelle and ellaOne - which both work in exactly the same way by preventing or delaying ovulation.
Another option to think about is the emergency IUD, which can be inserted into your uterus up to five days after unprotected sex. It may stop an egg from being fertilised or implanting in your womb, and can be used alongside the emergency contraceptive pill for double the protection.
When should I take it?
The 'morning after' pill isn't just for the morning after, and if you realise three days after sex that you've put yourself at risk, then there's still options available to you Levonelle can be taken within 72 hours (three days) of sex, and ellaOne can be taken within 120 hours (five days) of sex, giving you a much bigger window of opportunity to get stuff sorted.
Does it keep me protected from pregnancy?
NOPE, no, nuh uh and nada. Levonelle and ellaOne do not continue to protect you against pregnancy, so if you have unprotected sex at any time after taking the emergency pill you can become pregnant.
So can I just keep using this as a contraceptive method whenever I need it?
That would be a big, fat no. Levonelle and ellaOne are NOT intended to be used as a regular form of contraception, and it's not good for you to do so. There are loads of other methods available and one of them will be perfect for you to stick with. However, it is worth remembering that, if you really need to, you can use emergency contraception more than once in a menstrual cycle. But that's only if you're really stuck.
Where can I get it from?
We're talking UK here, but you can get the emergency contraceptive pill (and the IUD) for FREE from a GP surgery, a contraception clinic, a sexual health clinic, or a GUM clinic. Some pharmacies will also offer it to you for free if they're part of an NHS arrangement, as well as NHS walk-in centres and A&E departments. There's usually lots of information on your local NHS website about places which will provide it for free.
If you can't get hold of it for free, you can also buy the emergency contraceptive pill over the counter from most pharmacies if you're aged 16 or over for around £30 to £35. Steep, but cheaper than a baby, and worth it to put your mind at ease if you're worried.
Can I stock up on it?
Yes, this can be a good idea for some gals to have a Plan B, especially because it's more effective the quicker you take it - but it's only a sensible decision to get one in advance if you're certain that you're not gonna be tempted to just use it as a regular method of contraception.
You may be able to get hold of one to keep at home if you're worried about your normal contraceptive method failing, you're going on holiday, or you can't get hold of emergency contraception easily. Your GP will be able to tell you more.
How do I know if it's worked?
After taking the emergency contraceptive pill, your period will normally still come when you're expecting it, plus or minus a couple of days. However, don't panic if it doesn't as, for about one in five women, it will be delayed up to seven days from when it usually shows up.
If you're more than seven days late to get your period, take a pregnancy test.
Anything else I need to know?
It's not exactly scientific info, but for a long time there's been a weird kinda narrative surrounding the morning after pill which has given it a dirty label of irresponsibility, shame and promiscuity. We just wanted to let you know that that is absolutely not the case, and completely ridiculous. If you think about it, having one in your cupboard or realising that you need to take it after sex is actually a sign of responsibility and maturity. It's your body, it's your choice and it's all in your own hands.