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'Can you take it too many times?' The 7 things you didn't know about the morning after pill.

If you’re a sexually active woman, no doubt you’ve either heard of or have taken a morning after pill. 

You’ve either had unprotected sex or the condom has broken mid act and you need to get protected stat. 

But what do you know about this mysterious miracle “Plan B”?

How did you know you were pregnant? Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

There are two types of morning after pill – one that needs to be taken within 72 hours (the levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive pill) and one that can be taken within five days of unprotected sex (the ulipristal acetate pill.)

Mamamia spoke to Dr Brad McKay, who you might recognise from Embarrassing Bodies Down Under.

He set the record straight on some of the myths and misconceptions out there about this method of emergency contraception.

1. “It only works half of the time.”

The morning after pill works by stopping or delaying your ovary from releasing an egg.

This very description has created some confusion, that for the second half of your cycle (aka, once you’ve ovulated) the morning after pill is redundant.

According to Dr McKay, that’s false.

“In the first half of your cycle, it’s true that emergency contraception is able to delay or prevent your ovary from spitting out an egg. But the morning after pill has multiple actions on your body, so even if an egg is released it’s not too late,” he explained.

“Contrary to popular belief, fertilisation doesn’t happen at the exact moment when you’re having sex. Sperm usually swims around the uterus and through the Fallopian tubes, taking about 3-5 days before finding an egg – but of course this description doesn’t fit very well into a romantic narrative. The morning after pill makes the fluid around your cervix become thick and sticky, essentially trapping sperm and blocking it from reaching the egg,” said Dr McKay.

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“Emergency contraception is still a very effective option, even in the second half of your cycle,” he assured.

According to Family Planning Victoria, it’s 85 per cent effective if we want to get into exacts. But even though some forms of emergency contraception can work up to 5 days after sex, it’s more likely to be effective the earlier you take it.

2. Your weight plays a role in its effectiveness.

This is very true.

“An effective dose really does depend on your weight. The standard dose contained in the box will suit most people, but you might not get the right dose if your weight is above average,” said Dr McKay.

So if you’re overweight, what do you do?

“Your friendly pharmacist can help you work out the correct dose, or you can see your GP to discuss your options” is Dr McKay’s advice.

Princeton University has been doing some research into this phenomenon and advises that if your BMI is 26 or greater, the morning after pill might not be as effective.

3. You could achieve the same result by taking several doses of your everyday birth control pills.     

This one’s complicated.

In the 70s, Professor A. Albert Yuzpe established what came to be known as the ‘Yuzpe method’ – which is when a woman uses her daily contraceptive pills as emergency contraception. By combining the pills to reach a specific dose of oestrogen and progesterone, the pills work to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.

The Yuzpe method, however, is less common and less effective than using the morning after pill.

“Basically, the old method was to take 25 tablets of the Minipill, wait 12 hours, and then take another 25 tablets,” Dr Brad McKay explained to Mamamia.

“But thankfully I haven’t recommended this option for years because it’s so much easier to get your hands on the morning after pill these days. Taking a single tablet is much quicker than taking fifty,” he added.

“It’s easy to muck it up. Taking a large dose of oestrogen also increases the change of feeling nauseated and vomiting up all the tablets, so you’re better off just visiting the pharmacy and getting the morning after pill over the counter,” said Dr McKay.

4. No, the morning after pill is not “aborting a fetus.”

This is something that Dr McKay finds religious groups or pro-life campaigners are often concerned about.

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“Emergency contraception prevents sperm from fertilising the egg. There’s no mixing of DNA, no spark of new life, no beginning of a fetus, and definitely no tiny baby,” he explained.

5. You don’t need a doctor’s prescription.

Dr McKay thinks the biggest misconception he hears about the morning after pill is that you still need to get it from your doctor.

Unlike the contraceptive pill, which you do need a doctor to sign off on – you can go straight to the pharmacist for the morning after pill.

The pharmacist will likely ask you a checklist of questions – things like; “what is your usual means of contraception?” “why do you need emergency contraception?” “how long ago did you have unprotected sex?” and “have you had a pregnancy test lately?”

6. The copper coil is more old school.

In Australia, the only two options on offer for emergency contraception are the morning after pill and the copper coil. However Dr McKay isn’t a huge fan of the latter.

“Copper IUDs can technically be used as emergency contraception, but it’s not a very practical solution. You can’t just go to any GP for a Copper IUD. Doctors need special training, so you’d need to attend a Family Planning Clinic or see a Gynaecologist – and urgent appointments aren’t always easy. Some people like the idea of a Copper IUD because it doesn’t contain any hormones, but it often makes your periods much heavier and more painful,” he told Mamamia.

When it comes to longer term contraception, Dr McKay advises either a hormonal IUD (Mirena) or a hormonal implant (Implanon), but unlike the copper variety, these hormonal options can’t be used as emergency contraception.

If you do want to use a copper coil as emergency contraception, you need to have it inserted within five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex, says Family Planning Victoria.

7. There’s no limit on the amount of times you’re allowed to take it.

The myth that you can “only use it 1-2 times in your life” is false, however Dr McKay points out that the possible side effects of nausea, dizziness, irregular bleeding and abdominal cramps might not make you want to take it too many times anyway.

It’s a large dose of hormone, (as you can see from number three in this article) so putting your body through that over and over again isn’t ideal. Emergency contraception is good for an emergency, but there are many types of contraception that are more effective and have less side effects than the morning after pill – that’s if you’ve got time to plan ahead.

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