Birth Control: Emergency Methods

There are emergency methods available to help prevent an unintended pregnancy. The key is timeliness.

If you have had unprotected or forced sex, or fear that your birth control method may have failed, there are options available to help prevent an unintended pregnancy.  Emergency birth control are methods used for preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex or if a contraceptive method has failed.  It prevents pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, fertilization or implantation.  

The key is timeliness, because emergency methods cannot prevent a pregnancy once it has begun.  You’ll need to act within 72 hours after unprotected sex, consult with your doctor or family planning clinic to determine which method is best for you and if you need to be tested for STDs.  

So, what are you emergency options?  There are hormonal oral contraceptives, often called “morning after pills”.  They must be taken within 5 days of unprotected sex and prevent fertilization and implantation using the hormones estrogen and progestin.  These pills are 79-85% effective and cannot reverse a pregnancy.  Another type of emergency contraceptive is the copper intrauterine device (IUD).  This must be inserted by your doctor within 5 days of unprotected sex, prevents implantation of an embryo and is 99.9% effective.  

These emergency birth control methods are not meant to be used as your primary birth control.  It is important to find a long term method that you can use consistently and properly.  If you are sexually active and aren’t ready to have a child, it is vital to learn all you can about what contraceptive methods are available.

Isabel Blumberg, MD

This video features Isabel Blumberg, MD. Dr. Blumberg is a clinical instructor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science.

Duration: 2:40. Last Updated On: June 7, 2018, 2:11 p.m.
Reviewed by: Suzanne Friedman, MD, Preeti Parikh, MD . Review date: June 30, 2017
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