Your 101 guide to emergency contraception


No matter how careful you are, even if you always use a condom or are usually really, really good at remembering to take your regular contraceptive pill every day, mistakes and accidents can still happen. From when you can use it to where you get it we answer your questions about emergency contraception

What is emergency contraception?

If you’ve had unprotected sex or your contraception has let you down, emergency contraception can help to stop you falling pregnant. There are two types available:

  • Oral emergency contraceptive pill (also known as the morning after pill)
  • Intrauterine device (IUD) (also known as the coil)


How does the oral emergency contraceptive pill work?

You probably know this better as the morning after pill, which gets its name because it’s best to take it as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

There are two types: containing either ulipristal acetate (ellaOne) or levonorgestrel.

They both work by postponing or preventing ovulation so that no egg is released. This means that any sperm waiting in the fallopian tubes will be unable to hook up with an egg and fertilise it.


What’s an intrauterine device (IUD) and how does it work?

The IUD (aka the coil) is a small, T-shaped device made from plastic and copper, which is inserted into the uterus by a trained specialist. Many people also know it as the coil. It works by preventing the egg from implanting in the womb or being fertilised and can also be used as an ongoing method of contraception.


How soon do you need to use emergency contraception?

The morning after pill should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Pills containing ulipristal acetate (ellaOne) must be taken within five days of unprotected sex, and pills containing levonorgestrel should be taken within three days of unprotected sex. The IUD can be fitted up to five days after unprotected sex.


Where can I get emergency contraception?

You can get the morning after pill from pharmacies without a prescription, so no need to wait for an appointment with your GP. Either visit your local pharmacy or you can order it in advance online so that it’s ready to pick up when you arrive. Find out more about buying online here.

You also have the option to get the morning after pill from your GP, Family Planning Clinic, walk-in centre, or out of hours services.

The IUD needs to be fitted by a specially trained healthcare professional, so you’ll need to contact your GP or family planning service to arrange an appointment.


Does emergency contraception have any side effects?

The morning after pill is generally well tolerated but can sometimes lead to a few side effects like tummy ache, headache, feeling sick and irregular blood spotting outside your period.

It’s rare to have issues after fitting an IUD but some people can experience pain, infection, damage to the womb or the IUD itself. If you decide to use it as a long-term contraception then you may experience longer, heavier or more painful periods.


Can you get the morning after pill for future use?

The morning after pill can be bought in advance if you’re going on holiday or if you’re worried that your usual method of contraception isn’t working effectively.

Click here to find out how you can order ellaOne from store or have it delivered.


Is it possible to use it as a regular form of contraception?

The morning after pill is just intended for use if your usual contraception hasn’t worked for some reason or you’ve had unprotected sex. The IUD is a long-term method of contraception. Chat to a health professional to work out what is the best type of regular contraception for you.


How will I know if it’s worked?

The morning after pill has been found to be highly effective if taken as soon as possible, but it can cause your usual period to be delayed leading to some people worrying they may have fallen pregnant. If your period is more than 7 days late after taking ellaOne, or more than 5 days late after taking levonorgestrel, or if your period is unusual in anyway take a pregnancy test to be sure or visit your GP.

With the IUD, as long as you had it inserted in good time, there shouldn’t be an issue, but again if you haven’t had a period in three weeks take a pregnancy test to be certain.

For more blogs and information on the morning after pill visit

ellaOne contains ulipristal acetate. Always read the label.

*If you require emergency contraception/the morning after pill after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure, bear in mind that it is more effective the sooner it is taken. For this reason, it is important that you choose a service that will ensure you can get emergency contraception as quickly as possible.