How Do I Use the Morning-After Pill?

How to Use Morning-After Pill
How to Use Morning-After Pill. Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

In order to use the morning-after pill, you must first understand what it is and when it should be used. The morning-after pill consists of one pill that contains 1.5 mg of the progestin, levonorgestrel. There are three over-the-counter morning-after pills that you can use:

All three of these morning-after pills are used the same way, and they all work to prevent pregnancy the same way: How the Morning-After Pill Works  

When to Use the Morning-After Pill:

The morning-after pill is a type of emergency contraceptive. You should use the morning-after pill within 72 hours (3 days) after having unprotected sex or if you suspect that your birth control failed. It is the most effective when used with 24 hours, so the sooner you take it, the more effective it should be. You can also use the morning-after pill at any time during your menstrual cycle.

How to Use the Morning-After Pill:

Using the morning-after pill (either Plan B One-Step, My Way, Take Action, or Next Choice One Dose) is fairly simple. In order to successfully use the morning-after pill, you should follow these steps:

  1. Purchase the morning-after pill from the store. Before buying, check the expiration date on the box. Do not use the morning-after pill if it is past the expiration date.
  1. Read the directions and package insert.
  2. You may notice that labeling on My Way and Next Choice One Dose states that these products are intended to be used by women ages 17 and older whereas Plan B One-Step and Take Action do not include this statement. The generic versions are just as safe and effective for all age groups as Plan B One-Step; however, in order to protect the exclusivity rights of Plan B One-Step, the FDA required the manufacturers of My Way and Next Choice One Dose to include this labeling requirement. This means that, no matter your age, it is perfectly fine for you to use the morning-after pill (any of the versions).
  1. The morning-after pill is enclosed in a blister seal pack. Pop the pill out of the pack (do not use if the blister seal is broken).
  2. Swallow the pill. You can use the morning-after pill at any time during the day. Just remember that you should try to use it as soon as possible.
  3. Use may become nauseous or throw-up after you use the morning-after pill. If you throw-up within two hours of taking the morning-after pill, you should call your doctor to discuss whether or not you should take another pill.

Potential Side Effects from Using the Morning-After Pill:

Although there have been no reports of serious complications among the thousands of females who have used the morning-after pill, some side effects could occur after you use the morning-after pill. If this happens, they will typically last just last a day or two. Some possible side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headache
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

The morning-after pill may also have an affect on your menstrual cycle. Using the morning-after pill may cause spotting or irregular bleeding before your next period begins.

The morning-after pill may cause your next period to be heavier or lighter than normal. It can also delay the start of your next period or cause it to come sooner than expected. Typically, after using the morning-after pill, you can expect your next period to begin within a week of your expected time). 

If any other adverse reactions occur after using the morning-after pill, you should call your doctor. You may also want to consult with your doctor if your scheduled period is more than seven days late, as this may indicate that you could be pregnant.

  • If your period is more than a week late and you suspect that you may be pregnant, you can take a home pregnancy test. If you receive a positive result, it is important that you make an appointment with a doctor to verify your pregnancy and learn about your pregnancy options.
  • If you don't feel comfortable taking a home pregnancy test, you can always make an appointment at a family planning clinic or with your doctor, so that they can conduct the test. Just make sure that you seek help from a medical clinic and not a pregnancy resource center.

Additional Things to Be Aware of When Using the Morning-After Pill:

  1. If you are experiencing severe abdominal pain 3 to 5 weeks after using the morning-after pill, there is the chance that you may have an ectopic pregnancy. If this should happen, it is extremely important that you seek immediate medical attention. There appears to be some relationship between ectopic pregnancy and the use of progestin-only contraceptives.​
  2. The morning-after pill does not continue to prevent pregnancy during the rest of your menstrual cycle. After using the morning-after pill, your fertility is likely to rapidly return. Because of this, make sure to use your regular contraception or a back-up birth control method (like condoms, female condoms, Today Sponge or spermicide) in order to prevent an unintended pregnancy.​
  3. The morning-after pill is not meant for regular birth control use, so it should not be used as  your main method of birth control. Frequent use of the morning-after pill can cause periods to become irregular and unpredictable.​
  4. On average, the morning-after pill is about 84% to 89% effective. Two main factors influence the effectiveness of the morning-after pill:
    • The amount of time that has gone by since you had unprotected sex/birth control failure (so, the sooner you use the morning-after pill after unprotected sex, the more effective it is).
    • The point in your cycle when you had sex (the closer you are to ovulation, the less effective the morning-after pill will be).
  5. Because you may experience nausea and vomiting after using the morning-after pill, you can take an anti-nausea medication, like Dramamine or Bonine, one hour before taking the morning-after pill. This may reduce your risk of nausea. Just remember to read and follow the precautions on the package insert of these anti-nausea medications because the side effects of these types of medicines may include drowsiness.​
  6. When deciding to use the morning-after pill, timing is essential. It may be a good idea to buy a package of the morning-after pill to have as a precaution. This way, you will be able to quickly use it if the need arises (instead of wasting time trying to buy it after-the-fact). If you choose to do this, just remember that the shelf-life for the morning-after pill is 24 months from the date that it was manufactured, and make sure to store the morning-after pill package at room temperature (68° to 77°F).

Sources:

Dunn S, Guilbert E. "Emergency contraception." J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2012 Sep; 34(9):870-878.Accessed via private subscription.

Gemzell-Danielsson K, Rabe T, Cheng L. "Emergency contraception." Gynecological Endocrinology. March 2013; 29(S1):1-14. Accessed via private subscription.

Murphy PA. "Update on emergency contraception." J Midwifery Womens Health. 2012; 57(6):593-602. Accessed via private subscription.

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