Emergency Contraception


Emergency pregnancy prevention

Emergency contraceptive  (EC) pills often referred to as the “morning-after pill” are commonly used 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. Please note: According to MSI  United Kingdom Reproductive choices the morning after pill can be effective up to 96 hours after intercourse.

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, you will require a doctor’s prescription 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 was placed too late or 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 your cycle’s fertile days.
  • You have reason to think your regular birth control might have failed.

How does emergency contraception work?

Emergency contraceptives work by

  1. delaying or inhibiting the release  of an egg (ovulation),
  2. altering the luteal phase length,
  3. and also possibly inhibiting the implantation of a fertilised egg.
  4. In the unlikely event that implantation does occur, EC does not interrupt the pregnancy or put the foetus at risk.

Is there a difference between having an abortion and using the emergency pill?

  • Yes, abortion is the intentional removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus.
  • Emergency contraception delays ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary into a Fallopian tube.

What is the difference between the ”abortion pill” and the ”morning after pill”?

The “Abortion pill” is the common name for two different medicines which, when taken, ends a pregnancy: namely mifepristone and misoprostol.

The ”morning after pill” is one pill that you take to prevent pregnancy – not finish it.


What are the side-effects of EC?

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.

Please note: 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.

When should I expect my next period after I take emergency contraceptive pills?

You should have a regular period within the next month after taking emergency contraceptive pills (also called “morning-after pills” or “day after pills”).

Is spotting normal after taking EC?

Spotting is an average side effect of taking emergency contraception, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not pregnant. Wait another week. (That’s a total of three weeks after taking emergency contraception.) If you don’t have your period, you may want to take a pregnancy test to check things out.

How do you know if the morning-after pill worked?

If your next period is more than seven days late, you should take a pregnancy test even if you have no other symptoms. Taking a test immediately after taking the morning-after pill will not be effective. There would not be enough human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in the body, yet if a pregnancy occurred.

What happens if I’m pregnant and take the morning-after pill?

The morning-after pill will not work if you’re already pregnant.

What happens if the ”morning after pill” fails?

An irregular menstrual cycle after taking the morning after pill can commonly occur. There is a chance that the morning after pill can fail and you can fall pregnant. If your period is late/delayed, light or shorter than usual, consider having a pregnancy test.


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.


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