Hesperian Health Guides

Emergency Contraception (EC)

In this chapter:

a woman taking two pills with a glass of water

Emergency contraception (EC) is a way to avoid pregnancy after unprotected penis-in-vagina sex, but is only effective if used soon after having sex.

Emergency contraception is safe and effective. But it is not as effective as the consistent use of other family planning methods discussed in this chapter. It is also more expensive than some other methods and may have more side effects.

Pills for emergency contraception

If you had penis-in-vagina sex without using a family planning method and you do not want to get pregnant, you can take a high dose of hormonal birth control as soon as possible—within 5 days of having sex. The sooner you take the pills, the more likely they are to work.

Emergency contraception uses specific pills for this purpose or certain brands of regular birth control pills. How you use these pills depends on the amount of estrogen and progestin each pill contains. If you are already pregnant, using emergency contraception pills will not end or harm the pregnancy.

After using emergency contraception, either use a barrier method (such as condoms) or avoid sex that can cause pregnancy until your next period. During or after your next period, start using a family planning method if you do not want to become pregnant.

Your period should begin about 2 weeks after using emergency contraception. If it does not, you may be pregnant despite the emergency contraception. Keep using a barrier method of family planning until you know for sure.

IUDs for emergency contraception

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signs you may have an STI
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Copper IUDs and some hormonal IUDs (ones that contain 52 mg of levonorgestrel) can be used as emergency contraception. The IUD must be inserted by a trained health worker within 5 days after having unprotected sex. The IUD can be kept in and will continue to protect you from pregnancy. Or you can have it removed after your next period, when you know you are not pregnant. Do not have an IUD inserted if you think you might have an STI.

This page was updated:13 Nov 2023