What is emergency contraception?
Emergency contraceptive pills often referred to as the “morning after pill” is a commonly used method to prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse and can be effective up to 72 hours after intercourse. It helps to prevent 3 out of 4 pregnancies that would have happened.
Where can I get it?
Emergency contraceptive pills (high dose hormone pills) are available at most South African pharmacies and is available over-the-counter without a prescription if you are over 16 years old. If you are under the age of 16 years, you will require a prescription from a doctor to purchase the morning after pill at your pharmacy. You can also get it free of charge from your nearest provincial hospital or clinic in South Africa.
When is it necessary to use emergency contraception?
Use emergency contraception if:
- You didn’t use birth control
- You were forced to have sex
- The condom broke or came off
- Your diaphragm or cervical cap tears or slips out of place
- You missed at least two or three active birth control pills in a row (depending on which pill brand you use)
- You were more than two weeks late getting your birth control shot
- Your patch or vaginal ring is placed too late, or is removed too soon
- Your spermicide tablet doesn’t melt before sex
- Your IUD comes out
- You use the natural family planning method and don’t abstain from sex on the fertile days of your cycle
- You have reason to think your regular birth control might have failed.
How does it work?
Emergency contraceptives work by delaying or inhibiting the release of an egg (ovulation), altering the luteal phase length, and also possibly inhibiting the implantation of a fertilized egg. In the unlikely event that implantation does occur, EC does not interrupt the pregnancy or put the foetus at risk.
What are the side-effects?
Side-effects can be quite severe, but it usually only lasts 24-72 hours. It can include nausea, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, fatigue and breast tenderness. If vomiting occurs within the first 2 hours of taking the pill, it might be necessary to take another dose. Consult with your health care provider. Using the morning after pill has no long term or serious side-effects and there is no limit on how many times you can use it per year. Do not use it as a family planning method though – there are better products available for long term contraception.
If you suspect you might be pregnant, you can do a self-test quiz , the Pregnancy Quiz. If need more information or advice on family planning, you may chat to an online facilitator on the LIVE CHAT. The service is free, text-based and you may stay anonymous.