Emergency contraception

Emergency contraception can be used if a contraceptive method fails (for instance a condom splits or a pill is forgotten or taken late) or no contraception is used. Emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There are two forms of emergency contraception;

  • Emergency hormonal contraception (the morning after pill)
  • Emergency intrauterine device (IUD).

Emergency contraception is available free from:


Emergency Hormonal contraception (Morning after pill)

There are two kinds of emergency contraceptive pill. Levonelle has to be taken within 72 hours (three days) of sex, and ellaOne has to be taken within 120 hours (five days) of sex. Both work by preventing or delaying ovulation (release of an egg) and they may stop an egg from being fertilised or they may stop a fertilised egg from implanting in the womb.


  • Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion
  • There are no serious side effects of using emergency contraception
  • One of the pills, Levonelle, can be taken whilst breastfeeding
  • There is no limit to the number of times a person can take the morning after pill, however, as it is not as effective as other forms of contraception, it should not be relied upon


  • After taking the emergency contraceptive pill, most women will have a normal period at the expected time. However, you may have your period later or earlier than normal. If your period is more than seven days late, or is unusually light or short, contact us for help to exclude pregnancy
  • It can make you feel sick, dizzy or tired, or give you a headache, tender breasts or abdominal pain

How effective is it?

Emergency contraception is more effective the sooner after sex it is taken. Evidence suggests that oral emergency contraception administered after ovulation is ineffective. About 1–2% of all women who take ulipristal acetate after unprotected sex will become pregnant. About 0.6-2.6% of all women who take levonorgestrel within 72 hours of unprotected sex will become pregnant

What makes it less effective?

  • Because emergency contraception is more effective the sooner after sex the pill is taken, it is important that you seek emergency contraceptive advice as quickly as possible
  • Some medicines (including those used to treat epilepsy, HIV and TB, and the herbal medicine St John’s Wort)

Want to know a bit more? Try NHS Choices website, they have pages full of useful information about emergency contraception.


Emergency intrauterine device (IUD)

The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped contraceptive device made from plastic and copper. It’s inserted into the uterus by a trained health professional. It may prevent an egg from implanting in your womb or being fertilised. If you’ve had unprotected sex, the IUD can be inserted up to five days afterwards, or up to five days after the earliest time you could have ovulated, to prevent pregnancy.


  • The most effective type of emergency contraception
  • If you use the IUD as emergency contraception, it can be left in as your regular contraceptive method
  • The IUD can be used safely if you’re breastfeeding, but the risk of complications during insertion is slightly higher
  • Not affected by other medicines
  • Your fertility returns to normal once the IUD is removed
  • The IUD is hormone free


  • If left in as a method of contraception, it can make your periods longer, heavier or more painful
  • May get cramps and spotting/bleeding for a few days after fitting
  • Small risk of infection within 20 days of fitting
  • An IUD doesn't protect against STIs

How is an IUD fitted?

Before you have an IUD fitted, you will have an internal examination to determine the size and position of your womb. This is to make sure that the IUD can be positioned in the correct place.
You may also be tested for any existing infections, such as STIs. It is best to do this before an IUD is fitted so that any infections can be treated. You may be given antibiotics at the same time.

It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to insert an IUD:

  • the vagina is held open, like it is during a cervical screening (smear) test
  • the IUD is inserted through the cervix and into the womb
    The fitting process can be uncomfortable or painful for some women, and you may also experience cramps afterwards.

How effective is it?

Less than 1% of women who use the IUD get pregnant, making it the most reliable form of emergency contraception.

What makes it less effective?

If the IUD moves out of place it will be less effective. A check-up 6 weeks after fitting is recommended.

For more information check out NHS Choices website and their emergency contraception pages.