A woman can use emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex, or if a method of contraception has failed.
There are two methods of emergency contraception:
- the emergency contraceptive pill (the morning-after pill) - two types exist
- the copper intrauterine device (IUD)
Both of these methods are effective at preventing pregnancy if they are used soon after unprotected sex. However, the IUD is always 99.9% effective, whereas failures after Levonelle are not as rare.
Emergency contraceptive pill
There are two types of emergency contraceptive pill:
- Levonelle is the most commonly used. It can be taken up to three days (72 hours) after having unprotected sex, and is available free of charge on prescription or can be bought from your local pharmacy if you are over 16.
- ellaOne is a newer type of emergency contraceptive pill that can be taken up to five days (120 hours) after having unprotected sex. It is only available on prescription.
Most women can use the emergency contraceptive pill, including women who are breastfeeding and those who cannot usually use hormonal contraception (such as the combined pill or contraceptive patch).
The emergency contraceptive pill should not be used as a regular method of contraception.
Read more about the emergency contraceptive pill.
Copper intrauterine device (IUD)
The copper intrauterine device (IUD) is a small plastic and copper device that can be fitted into your womb by a doctor or nurse within five days of having unprotected sex or up to five days after ovulation (release of an egg).
The IUD stops sperm from reaching an egg and fertilising it, and to some extent prevents implantation of a fertilised egg into the womb lining.
It is the most effective method of emergency contraception and prevents at least 99.9% of pregnancies.
Most women can use the IUD for emergency contraception. It is particularly suitable if:
- you cannot or do not want to take hormones
- you are taking certain medication, such as epilepsy drugs
- you want to use the IUD as an ongoing method of contraception
Read more about the intrauterine device.