The Morning-After Pill (AKA Plan B)
How it Works and How to Take it
WHAT IS IT?
Morning-after pills are over-the-counter medications that can help prevent pregnancy. The most well-known pill is known as “Plan B” because it is taken after the first form of birth control—i.e., your plan A, -- has failed. For example, if the condom breaks or your partner doesn’t pull out in time, the morning-after pill is an excellent option that can help you avoid pregnancy.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
To make a boring science lesson short, the morning-after pill uses the same hormones found in the birth control pill to prevent you from ovulating (which, as discussed in the “How Pregnancy Works” section) is your body’s process of releasing an egg). Without an egg to fertilize, any sperm that has gotten in your body can’t get you pregnant.
If taken within 24 hours of unprevented sex, the morning-after pill is 95% effective at preventing pregnancy. Within 24-48 hours, it’s 85% effective, and within 49-72 hours it’s still 58% effective. The pill loses efficiency over time because it works to stop an egg from being released, and as days go by, it becomes more and more likely that the egg has already been released. This is why most morning-after pills need to be taken at most 72 hours after unprotected sex.
Obviously, since the morning-after pill works by stopping ovulation, it is useless if you’ve already ovulated. It won’t kill the egg or hurt an already fertilized egg. However, since it’s very hard to tell whether you’ve ovulated, I recommend you try to take one unless it’s been a very long time since your last period (which suggests that you’ve probably already ovulated) and you truly don’t have the cash to spare. The morning-after pill lets you have the peace of mind of knowing you did everything you could to prevent pregnancy, which most people find truly invaluable in a time of overthinking everything.
I reiterate that no morning-after pill is an abortion pill, and it’s not a form of guaranteed pregnancy prevention. That means that you can take it even if you personally don’t want to harm fertilized eggs or are against abortion since it will have absolutely no effect if sperm has already reached an egg. On the flip of that, however, is the fact that the morning-after pill is not a guarantee and does have some side effects. You might get nauseous, feel fatigued, get headaches—in short, all the side effects of bad PMS. It might make you feel crummy, and it might not work, especially later in your cycle when you’ve already ovulated, so do not rely on the morning-after pill as your primary birth control. It is far more effective (and cost-efficient!) to use condoms, the pill, or any other form of contraceptive.
Nevertheless, there is no limit to the number of morning-after pills you can take, and you won’t experience long-term side effects. If you are in an unsafe situation, or you just made a mistake with your primary birth control, do not hesitate to take a morning-after pill no matter how many times you’ve taken it in the past. The morning-after pill is one of the biggest breakthroughs in contraceptive science history, and since my goal is to minimize the amount of emotional distress happening in the South about contraception, I wholeheartedly endorse its ability to soothe nervous people after an accident.
HOW TO GET IT AND USE IT
In good news, most morning-after pills are over-the-counter medication, which means you can buy it at any local pharmacy at any age and without a prescription. In bad news, it’s not cheap. The average cost of Plan B One-Step (the most common branded form of the morning after pill) is $40-$50 dollars. There are a few ways to get around this cost-- many pharmacies offer coupons, for instance, and the generic form of Plan B (sold under quite a few names) is equally effective and usually far cheaper (from $11-$45). No matter what though, there’s going to be a financial burden.
It is important to pick the right morning-after pill. All the information in this guide so far has been for levonorgestrel pills, like almost every morning-after pill on the market. However, there is one other kind of pill that uses a different kind of hormone; Ella can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex and is the best form of birth control for people who weigh more than 155 pounds. Unfortunately, you need a prescription to buy Ella, but if you weigh more than 155 pounds or if it’s too late for you to take a levonorgestrel pill, you should go see a doctor or use this site to get an Ella pill.
If possible, try splitting the cost with your sexual partner. As your sex ed classes probably told you, if you’re comfortable having sex with them, you should probably be comfortable talking about contraception. If you’re not in that kind of sexual relationship, you could also try asking a friend, or a few friends. Once again, I know it’s awkward, but your friends understand how stressed out you are, and will probably help if they can. If none of these options work out, or you’re just not comfortable asking, you can go to your neighborhood Planned Parenthood or reproductive health center, where you can usually get the morning-after pill at a reduced rate.
If you ultimately find the money to go to a pharmacy, remember that even if your parents have access to your credit/debit card bill, they can only see where you’re buying, not what you’re buying, so don’t worry about the words “Plan B” showing up on a bank statement. And, if you’re worried in general about a morning-after charge at the CVS, remember that buying with cash is entirely untraceable.
Because it’s so expensive, the morning-after pill is sometimes kept behind glass, meaning you might have to ask the pharmacist directly for it. Take a deep breath and try not to be embarrassed. They’re not going to ask you how old you are, they aren’t going to tell your parents, and they probably won’t remember you twenty seconds after you leave, no matter how awkward the interaction seems. The morning-after pill is just healthcare, and there’s nothing shameful about buying it.
Remember that the morning-after pill is more effective the sooner you take it, so try to get to a pharmacy quickly. Unfortunately, it can make some people nauseous, and you should ideally take another one if you vomit within 2 hours of taking it. To avoid stomach discomfort, try eating something carb-heavy—pasta, crackers, or cereal—before you take the pill. And, if possible, try to take it easy the day you take it. Rest up, utilize your favorite forms of self-care, and focus on relaxing.
In the weeks after you take the morning-after pill, you’re probably going to be anxiously awaiting your period. Remember that the morning-after pill floods your body with a lot of the same hormones your period does, which means it may dramatically affect your menstrual cycle. The morning-after pill may make your period shorter, longer, heavier, lighter, early, or late, all of which can be pretty worrying to a person trying to tell if they’re pregnant or not. The most important thing is to stay calm, since stress can delay your period further. Take deep breaths and try to remember you’ve done everything you can to prevent pregnancy. There’s no point panicking until a day or two after when your period is due, since that’s the earliest you should take a pregnancy test. Until then, worrying is only harmful.