Everything You Need to Know About the Morning After Pill

What is the morning after pill?

The morning after pill is a form of emergency contraception that many women have reached for after their normal method of contraception hasn’t worked out.

If your condom breaks, or you realise that you forgot to take the pill before you got down and made love, then you could find yourself in need of some emergency contraception, and the morning after pill is a popular choice.

Sometimes, even the best laid plans go to waste, and that’s where the morning after pill can help to give you peace of mind.

Today we’re going to be answering your questions about the morning after pill, when you should or shouldn’t take it, and how it works.

How does the morning after pill work?

There are two types of morning after pill, one named Levonelle and one named ellaOne, and they both work slightly differently.

Levonelle contains the active ingredient levonorgestrel, and it is thought to work by preventing your ovaries from releasing an egg.

If your ovaries have already released an egg, then Levonelle is thought to prevent any sperm from fertilising it, keeping you from falling pregnant.

EllaOne uses the active ingredient ulipristal acetate, and it works by changing how the hormone progesterone works in your body.

Progesterone is what your body needs to ovulate, so ellaOne helps to delay ovulation, keeping you from getting pregnant in the process.

How effective is the morning after pill?

Both morning after pills are effective ways of keeping you from falling pregnant if you use them as recommended by your doctor or pharmacist.

Levonelle has been shown to prevent 84% of pregnancies when taken properly.

If you take ellaOne, then research has shown that only 2 in every 100 women that use this pill will become pregnant.

However, it’s important to know that neither morning after pill will work if you’re already pregnant.

If you think that you might already be pregnant, make sure to see your doctor as soon as possible, as the emergency contraceptive pill will not terminate a pregnancy that has already begun.

How long after having sex can I use emergency contraception?

The amount of time you can wait after sex before taking each type of emergency contraceptive pill is different from pill to pill.

If you choose to take Levonelle, then you need to take it within 3 days for it to be effective.

If you decide to take ellaOne, and it needs to be taken within 5 days to be effective.

No matter which pill you choose, the sooner you take them the better, as they’re both more effective if you take them as soon as possible.

Where can I get the morning after pill?

If you need the morning after pill or another form of emergency contraception, then you can pick it up for free in a number of different places.

Some of the most popular places where people go to get their emergency contraception include:

  • Their doctor’s surgery (if they provide contraception)
  • Contraception clinics
  • Sexual health or GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics
  • Pharmacies
  • Some A&E departments
  • Some young people’s clinics

When you go to buy a morning after pill, you may need to speak to a medical professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist, before you’re able to take the pill away with you.

They’ll be able to help you to decide which of the morning after pills is the best choice for you, depending on factors like your medical history, what kind of contraception you usually use, and when you last had unprotected sex.

Can I buy the morning after pill in advance?

Some people may decide that they want to purchase a morning after pill in advance, just in case they ever find themselves in need of emergency contraception, and it’s absolutely possible.

If you’re over 16, then you’ll be able to buy the morning after pill in advance from a local or online pharmacy, after answering some questions from the pharmacist or another medical professional.

However, if you’re worried about needing the morning after pill regularly, it might be a good idea to re-think the methods of contraception you use and whether you can use them every time you have sex.

Does the morning after pill have any side effects?

Both morning after pills can have side effects, just like with any other medication, but they aren’t serious or long-term.

Some of the most common side effects that people experience after taking the morning after pill include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea or vomiting – if you are sick then you should speak to your doctor, just in case you need to take another dose of the morning after pill.
  • Changes to your menstrual cycle, e.g. a later or earlier period
  • Headaches

If you do experience any of these side effects, and they don’t improve within a couple of days, make sure to see your doctor straight away.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor if any side effects from the morning after pill last longer than a few days, but there are a couple of other situations where you should see a doctor too.

If you think you may already be pregnant then the morning after pill won’t work and you should see your doctor straight away.

If your next period is shorter or lighter than usual, or arrives more than 7 days late, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Finally, if you have any sudden pain in your lower stomach, make sure to see your doctor.

There are some rare cases where a fertilised egg may have implanted outside the womb and you’ll need to see your doctor to be sure that everything’s okay.

Can the morning after pill delay your period?

Yes, the morning after pill can delay your period but it may also make your period begin early instead. You could also notice spotting, or a lighter or heavier period than usual after you’ve taken the pill.

The morning after pill works by affecting your hormones, so it’s no surprise that your period may be affected by this, but if your period is late by more than 7 days, or you notice any other concerning symptoms, make sure to see your doctor.

Can I take the morning after pill while I’m breastfeeding?

If you’re a breastfeeding mother then this may have an impact on your choice of morning after pill.

The manufacturer of ellaOne recommends that you should not breastfeed your baby for at least 1 week after taking your pill, as the effects on your baby are still unknown.

They also recommend that you should continue to use a breast pump to continue milk production during this time, but should throw your milk away without giving it to your baby.

On the other hand, Levonelle has been shown to be safe for breastfeeding mothers to take.

With that in mind, small amounts of the hormones that make up this pill can still pass into your breast milk, although this is not thought to be harmful to your baby.

If you’re still worried about these hormones affecting your baby, then the manufacturer recommends that you should avoid breastfeeding for at least 8 hours after taking the Levonelle pill.

This will help to reduce the amount of the active ingredient expressed in your milk.

Does alcohol affect the morning after pill?

There is no evidence to suggest that the morning after pill is affected by alcohol.

If you drink before or after taking either morning after pill, you will not change how effectively it will work, so don’t worry about it.

However, if you vomit after taking the morning after pill, whether that’s due to illness or due to drinking alcohol, then you might need to take another dose of your pill or use another form of emergency contraception, so be careful.

Can the morning after pill cause infertility?

Some women worry that taking the morning after pill will affect their fertility but current research suggests that they have nothing to worry about.

EllaOne does not affect your future fertility in any way and will not stop you from becoming pregnant if you have sex after taking this pill.

Levonelle is slightly different, as it can lead to changes in your menstrual cycle, which can mean that you may ovulate sooner or later than usual.

This can change the dates when you are the most fertile, but there have been no long-term studies to suggest that your fertility will be affected further.

If you have sex after taking the morning after pill then you may still become pregnant, as these pills don't provide contraceptive protection afterwards.

If you want to have sex after taking the morning after pill, make sure to use another form of contraception, like a condom, to be sure that you won't fall pregnant.

Hopefully we’ve cleared up all of your questions about the morning after pill, so you’ll know what to do if you ever find yourself needing some emergency contraception.

If you’re still a bit confused, or aren’t sure whether the morning after pill would work for you, speak to your Chemist 4 U pharmacist or doctor, they’ll be able to tell you everything you need to know.

Remember, stay safe out there, no matter how much fun you’re having.


Laura Henderson - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 22 September 2021
© 2024 Chemist4U. Innox Trading Ltd, 35-37 Greenhey Place, Skelmersdale, Lancashire, WN8 9SA, GB. All rights reserved. Registered and regulated UK pharmacy with the GPhC (registered premises 9011784). Registered in England No. 07262043 | VAT Registration No. GB140138454