Hesperian Health Guides

Emergency Methods of Family Planning

a woman taking two pills with a glass of water

Emergency family planning methods should not be used in place of other methods.

Emergency methods are ways for women to avoid pregnancy after having unprotected sex. They are only effective if used soon after having sex.

Emergency methods are safe and effective. But they are not as effective as consistent use of the other family planning methods discussed in this chapter and they can cause unpleasant side effects.

Emergency Pills

The pills used for emergency family planning are often the same birth control pills that some women take each day. But in emergencies, you take a much higher dose for a short time. There are now also special emergency pills that have the high dose in 1 or 2 pills. For any of these, you must take the pills 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 (see 'How to take pills for emergency family planning'). If you are already pregnant, taking emergency pills will not end the pregnancy or cause birth defects.

Until your next monthly bleeding, you should use a barrier method of family planning, like condoms, or not have sex. After your monthly bleeding, you can use any family planning method you choose.

Your next monthly bleeding should begin in about 2 weeks. If it does not, you may have become pregnant despite the emergency family planning. You should continue to use a barrier method of family planning until you know for sure.

Other emergency methods

IUD (Intra-Uterine Device): A Copper-T IUD can also keep the egg from attaching to the womb wall.

  • The IUD must be inserted by a specially trained health worker within 5 days after having unprotected sex. The IUD can be kept in and continue to protect you from pregnancy for up to 10 or 12 years. Or you can have the IUD removed after your next monthly bleeding when it is certain you are not pregnant. Do not have an IUD inserted if you think you might have an STI.

This page was updated:23 Oct 2019