E-pills, also called morning-after or emergency contraception pills, are drugs you can take when you have had unprotected sex and think that you could be pregnant.
You need to take them as soon as possible after the unprotected intercourse, preferably within 24 hours. After that, they become less effective. The e-pill is available over the counter, which means you can go straight to the pharmacy and without a doctor’s prescription.
It might even make sense to have an e-pill at home just in case you ever need it. Then you don’t have to stress about rushing to the chemist, in case of an emergency.
There are two types of emergency contraception pills however only one is currently available in Kenya. The available pill is progestogen-only (using the hormone levonorgestrel) generally referred to as P2. Another form of emergency contraception is the copper IUD. However, this needs to be put in by a medical provider.
There is no limit as to how many times you can use the emergency-pill in a year. However, the e-pill does have short-term side effects that mean it should not be used as a normal form of contraception, but only in case of emergency.
- Helps prevent pregnancy in cases of failed or forgotten contraception, or rape
- Gives peace of mind
- Easy to get
- Can change the timing of next period (early or late)
- No STD protection
- Needs to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex
Is the e-pill the same as an abortion pill?
E-pills are not abortion pills. The e-pill works in various ways, but can’t do anything if an egg is already fertilized.
If you are already pregnant and take the e-pill, it will have no negative effects on your pregnancy.
How do I get e-pills?
You can get the e-pill over the counter or from your healthcare provider. Because it is most effective the faster you take it, many health care providers even suggest getting an emergency pill and keeping it at home just in case.
Studies have found that keeping e-pills at home doesn’t mean you are more likely to have unprotected sex.
What are the side-effects of e-pills?
- Breast tenderness
- Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting
How safe are e-pills?
E-pills have a high concentration of hormones and can cause considerable short-term side effects. That’s why e-pills should be used only in case of emergency, and are not recommended as a normal method of birth control.
There seem to be no long-term side-effects known for emergency-contraception pills.
There are some cases of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) reported with the use of the e-pills.
Who shouldn’t use e-pills?
- Women with undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Women with a history of DVT (deep vein thrombosis)
- Women with acute migraines
- Women with a BMI higher than 35
What can stop e-pills from working properly?
If you vomit soon after taking the pill, it may be less effective. Talk to a healthcare provider as soon as possible to find out what your options are.
In both cases, consider the copper-T IUD as emergency contraception.
How long does its effect last?
Scientists are not quite sure how long the effect of the e-pill lasts. So don’t assume that, after you took an e-pill, you will be protected from unintended pregnancies for a period of time. You need to take an e-pill every time you’ve had unprotected sex.
Can I take an e-pill before having sex?
No research has been done on this, and the manufacturers don’t recommend it. Taking an e-pill before having sex could prevent an unintended pregnancy, but we don’t know for sure.
Also, if you take it beforehand, you might as well choose a better option, like a condom.
The progestogen-only pill makes the mucus around your cervix thicker so the sperm can’t get through. It can also stop ovulation while also releasing a hormone that makes it harder for sperm to travel up towards the egg. You get either two doses of 750mg each that you have to take 12 hours apart or one dose of 1.5mg.
If taken within 24 hours it is 95 per cent effective. The longer you wait before taking e-pills, the less effective they are. They are most effective if taken between 12 and 24 hours after unprotected sex. If taken later, they can still be effective for 72 hours after intercourse, but then your chances of getting pregnant are higher. If taken between 49-72 hours the pill is only 58 per cent effective.
Progestogen-only pills work less well for women who are overweight. If you have a body mass index (BMI) higher than 35 then it is suggested to use the Copper IUD as emergency contraception.
Don’t know your BMI? Use a calculator to figure it out!
Progestogen-only pills can even be used several times in one cycle if needed, though should not be used as a normal form of birth control. For more regular forms of birth control check out our section on birth control methods.
The ‘morning after’ IUD
Another kind of emergency contraception is the ‘morning after IUD’. You have to have it fitted by a doctor. This is possible four to five days after you’ve had unprotected sex. You can find more information here.
This is actually just the same as having an IUD fitted as a contraceptive. Once it’s in, you can just leave it in place to stop you getting pregnant in future. But you need to think whether it’s the right kind of contraception to suit you – see the section on birth control.