Hesperian Health Guides

Emergency methods of family planning (the 'morning after' pill)

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 9: Family planning > Emergency methods of family planning (the ‘morning after’ pill)


Emergency family planning is a way to avoid pregnancy after having unprotected sex. This method works by taking a larger-than-usual amount of the same birth control pills that some women take each day to prevent pregnancy. There are also emergency pills that have the dose in 1 or 2 pills.

These methods work best when the pills are taken as soon as possible, within 5 days of having unprotected sex. The sooner you take the pills after unprotected sex, the more likely it is you will not get pregnant.

How this works to prevent pregnancy depends on where you are in your monthly menstrual cycle when you take it. It may prevent you from releasing an egg.

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Emergency family planning is not the same thing as an abortion, because if you are already pregnant when you take the pills, your pregnancy will not stop, and your developing baby will not be harmed. But neither is it a method you can use for regular family planning. If you are having sex and do not want to get pregnant, use one of the family planning methods.

If you cannot swallow pills, or you have problems with nausea and vomiting, the pills can be put into the vagina where they will be absorbed into the body.

An intrauterine device (IUD) inserted into the womb up to 5 days after unprotected sex will also prevent a pregnancy. This method works better than pills, but should be used only by a woman who is planning to use an IUD for her regular family planning method.

Talk with local health workers about how important it is for women to have access to emergency family planning. Work with them and local pharmacists to make emergency family planning available to every woman in your community who wants it.

Family Planning and Paralysis

a woman on a hand-cycle speaking.
Fewer children can mean more time for yourself and the children you have.

If you are a woman with no feeling in your lower body (from paralysis caused by polio, or a spinal cord injury), and you do not want to get pregnant, here are some guidelines to help you choose a method (some of these methods may not be available in every community):

Barrier methods (condom for men, condom for women, diaphragm, cap, sponge, spermicide). You may need assistance using the methods that are inserted into the vagina.

Hormonal methods (pills, injections, implants, IUD with hormones). You can use hormonal methods that contain estrogen if you are active every day (push your own wheelchair or cart, do exercises, do household work like sweeping, or digging in the garden). You should not use hormonal methods that contain estrogen if you:

  • sit still all day or do not get any exercise.
  • ever had a blood clot anywhere in your body.
  • ever had signs of a stroke or heart disease.
  • have any type of cancer.
  • are over age 35.
  • smoke cigarettes, or chew or snort tobacco or snuff.

If you become paralyzed as an adult, do not start using hormonal methods until 6 months after your injury.

Intrauterine device (IUD). Some of the problems that can happen with an IUD, such as the IUD coming out, or an infection, usually cause pain which lets a woman know something is wrong. As you will not be able to feel pain, it is probably best for you not to use this method. If you do want to use it, make sure you can get checked regularly by an experienced health worker.