Emergency contraception

The pill or IUD can prevent a pregnancy when used up to five days after unprotected sex.

There are two types of emergency contraception; pills that can be taken by mouth or the IUD, which is inserted into the womb. More information on the IUD is available here.

Emergency contraceptive pills mostly work by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovaries. A popular type of emergency contraception, which is sometimes called ‘the morning after pill’, involves taking one or two tablets of a particular hormone. The IUD prevents a fertilised egg settling in the womb.

How well does emergency contraception work?

  • Emergency contraception is effective at preventing a pregnancy after unprotected sex.

  • If 100 women had sex once during the second or third week of their menstrual cycle without using contraception, and then all used emergency contraception, only 1 or 2 women would fall pregnant.

  • In general, the sooner an emergency contraceptive is used the better it is at stopping a pregnancy. Emergency contraception has to be used within five days to be most effective and must be used after EVERY incident of unprotected sex.

What are other good things about emergency contraception?

  • Emergency contraception is safe for nearly all women.

  • In addition to the IUD there are many different pill options available.

  • Using emergency contraception does not affect your long term fertility. After taking the emergency contraceptive pill your fertility will return the following month after you have your period. If you use the IUD your fertility will return as soon as you decide to take the IUD out.

What else should you know?

  • Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion. It either prevents fertilisation between the egg and the sperm from occurring, or prevents the fertilised egg from settling in the womb.

  • Emergency contraception can be used at any time in your menstrual cycle.

  • Emergency contraception is not harmful to your health or long term fertility. You can use it as many times in your life as you need.

Find out about other short term contraceptive methods

Compare methods

Compare different contraceptive methods, and see how well they work at preventing pregnancy.

Compare methods