These kind of comments imply it’s not safe to use emergency contraception (EC) more than once, perpetuating widespread myths - a survey by FPA found almost two-thirds of women thought repeat use of EC could make them infertile or weren’t sure of its effects.
To clear things up once and for all, we asked experts about the safety of the emergency contraceptive pill, as well as how many times you can take it in a year. Spoiler: it’s more than you think.
An overview of the emergency contraceptive pill.
While many of us colloquially use the term ‘morning after pill’, experts prefer the term emergency contraception, so as not to mislead people into thinking they have to take the pill the morning after sex, or within 24 hours, for it to be effective.
There are two types of emergency contraceptive pills available.
One contains a hormone called levonorgestrel and can be taken up to three days after unprotected sex, but is more effective the earlier it’s taken. A well-known brand is Levonelle but there are lots of different brands available including pharmacy own-brands which are often much cheaper.
The other pill, branded ellaOne, contains an ingredient called ulipristal acetate. It can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. This type of pill is more effective than a pill with levonorgestrel at preventing pregnancy, according to sexual health charity FPA.
“Both pills are suitable for most people,” Natika Halil, chief executive of FPA, told HuffPost UK. “There are a few things to watch out for. With levonorgestrel pills, if you weigh more than 70kg or have a BMI higher than 26, or if you’re taking certain medicines, then you might need a higher dose.
“Pills with ulipristal acetate (UPA) aren’t suitable for use by women with severe asthma controlled by oral steroids. If you’re breastfeeding and use UPA you need to avoid breastfeeding for a week afterwards (expressing and discarding your milk). And if you’ve used hormonal contraception in the week before taking UPA this might make it less effective.”
Some people may feel sick, get headaches or a painful period after taking an emergency pill and a very small number will vomit. If the latter happens within three hours of the taking the pill, it’s important to speak to a health professional, who might recommend an emergency IUD.
Is the emergency contraceptive pill safe?
The emergency contraceptive pill is completely safe to use, multiple times throughout the year, according to the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH).
“The safety of EC is backed up by scientific evidence,” Dr Jane Dickson, FSRH vice president, said. “EC is extremely safe with occasional minor side effects.”
Guidance released earlier in the year by FSRH said any adverse events relating to use of emergency contraception by healthy women are rare.
The faculty added that increased accessibility of oral emergency contraception does not increase the frequency of unprotected sex, the likelihood of sexual risk-taking and does not make women less likely to use effective contraception.
When asked about how many times a woman could take EC in a year, a spokesperson for FSRH told HuffPost UK: “There is no such thing as taking emergency contraception too many times in a year.
“There is no maximum amount after which it becomes dangerous. So there is no problem in buying three packs within six months, as Chemist-4-U is offering women.”
They did warn, however, that the whole point of EC is for emergencies and it is far less effective than regular, ongoing contraception such as the combined pill. In short: it’s always best to use a reliable form of contraception.
A spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) added that emergency contraception is categorised by the World Health Organisation as level 1 medication, meaning there should be no restriction on its use.
“It can be used repeatedly, even within the same cycle,” they told HuffPost UK. “It is far safer than many medications which are available to buy off the shelves of supermarkets, including painkillers, nicotine replacement therapies and digestive medications.”
Well there you have it.