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The emergency contraceptive pill, often called ‘the morning after pill’, is a high dose of hormones that aims to prevent pregnancy occurring after unprotected sex. It’s a single pill that is most effective if taken within 72 hours after sex.

This can help if:

  • you want to know what the morning after pill is
  • you’ve recently had unprotected sex
  • you’ve been having sex and forgot to take the contraceptive pill.
Man showing girl paperwork

What is the emergency contraceptive pill?

The emergency contraceptive pill is a special dose of the progestogen hormone called levonorgestrel. It’s used by women who’ve had unprotected sex with a male and don’t want to become pregnant.

It’s often called ‘the morning after pill’ because you take it the morning after having sex. In fact, the emergency contraceptive pill is effective for up to five days after having unprotected sex, but the effectiveness decreases with each day.

How does it work?

The emergency contraception pill stops pregnancy in two ways:

  • it stops ovulation (so no egg is released in the female)
  • it prevents a fertilised egg from attaching to the uterus wall.

How effective is it?

It’s 89 per cent effective if taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. This means that about nine out of ten women who take it don’t get pregnant.

When should the emergency contraception pill be used?

The emergency contraceptive pill prevents pregnancy, and can be used if you’ve recently had sex that could result in pregnancy. For example:

  • if you’ve had unprotected sex
  • if you usually take the contraceptive pill but forgot, and you’ve had sex
  • if you used a condom during sex, but it broke or fell off.

The emergency contraception pill should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex occurs. It’s effective for up to 120 hours (five days), but it’s less effective as time goes by.

How do I get it?

You can get it without a prescription from a pharmacy. If you’re worried about talking to the pharmacist about it with other customers around, tell them you have something private to discuss. They often have a small consultation room or an area where they can talk with you in private. The cost is usually around $20–$30.

What happens when I take it?

  • You may feel a bit nauseous after taking it. Try to take it easy and look after yourself.
  • You should get your next period at the normal time.
  • If you don’t get a period at the normal time, talk to your doctor or take a pregnancy test.
  • Remember: the emergency contraception pill doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Make an appointment with a doctor for a sexual health check to test for STIs.

What can I do now?