Emergency Contraception / Morning-after Pill

Emergency contraception is designed for exactly that – an emergency. Although sometimes called the ‘morning after pill,’ it actually is a set of pills that you take within 72 hours after having sex where the protection failed (e.g. the condom broke) or wasn’t used. It prevents pregnancy by temporarily delaying the production of eggs by the ovaries (ovulation), stopping fertilization, or stopping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.

There are a couple different methods available:

  • Plan B® and NorLevo® are two different brands that have 2 progestin tablets.
  • A series of birth control pills called the ‘Yuzpe method.’ The pills have to contain enough estrogen (100 µg) and progestin (levonorgestrel 1.5 mg) to work, so you should check the package of pills you have for the doses. If you’re still not sure, you can ask the person who prescribes or provides your pills to figure out the dose. The Yuzpe method should only be used if no Plan B/NorLevo is available, because it may be less effective and causes more side effects.

It doesn’t require a prescription. You can get it at a health care provider’s office, clinic, or over-the-counter at a pharmacy. Some pharmacies refuse to carry it, and some others that do carry it can be judgmental about handing it over. Not all pharmacies are like this, though.

You may want to have some emergency contraception with you before you need it. That way, if your condom breaks, your usual method of birth control fails, or if you had sex without condoms, you will already have it on hand.

How to use it

It consists of pills that you either take together right away or 12 hours apart.

Effectiveness

The sooner you take the pills, the more chance that they’ll work. Emergency contraception reduces the risk of pregnancy by up to 85%. It can be taken up to 5 days after sex, but is way more effective when it’s taken sooner than that.

Advantages

A good last-ditch choice to avoid pregnancy.

Disadvantages

The most common side effect is nausea, which can be alleviated with anti-nausea pills. If you throw up within one hour of taking both or one of the pills, buy another pack and start again. Other side effects include cramps, fatigue, dizziness, tender breasts and vaginal spotting. Plus, be prepared to stay calm just in case you get judgmental behaviour by the seller. Remember that getting emergency contraception can be better for you than not getting it.

Cost and coverage

The morning-after pill is covered by most private health insurance plans, but you should know that if you use your parent’s drug plan, they may be able to see that information. It is also covered by:

  • EIA/social assistance
  • FNIHB (First Nations status) – You can call 204-983-8886 to make sure no one else can see your prescriptions.
  • Manitoba Pharmacare – If you have a Manitoba Health card and have no other coverage, there’s a good chance you can apply for Pharmacare to cover a good portion of your drug costs. Click here for more information.

If you don’t have any coverage, you may be able to get emergency contraception for free from your health care provider’s office or clinic, or you can call Women’s Health Clinic (204-947-1517) for information on their free/low-cost birth control program. Otherwise, the cost to just purchase the morning-after pill over-the-counter is generally between $20 and $42 in Winnipeg.*

* This information is up-to-date as of 2014.