Contraception – Morning After Pill


The goal of contraception (or birth control) is to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. The majority of methods of contraception enable sexually active couples to temporarily avoid pregnancy. Permanent birth control is accomplished through sterilization. Be sure you know and understand the different types of birth control available to you, the risks and benefits of each, and any side effects, so that you can make an informed choice.

The morning-after pill (or postcoital pill) consists of a series of very high doses of estrogens (generally diethylstillbestrol [DES], progesterones or combination pills. They may be effective in preventing pregnancy if initiated within 72 hours of sexual intercourse. This method of birth control works by altering the ability of a fertilized egg to implant and grow. It is usually not recommended as a routine birth control method, rather it is reserved for special circumstances.


  • Is generally effective for birth control (97-99%), but effectiveness varies depending on the time of the woman’s menstrual cycle; if taken at mid cycle, the failure rate is higher.
  • It is an immediate form of birth control should unexpected intercourse occur, such as with rape victims.
  • It is a backup birth control option for couples experiencing failure of other methods: expulsion of an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD), condom breakage or diaphragm displacement.


  • Not 100% effective for birth control.
  • Must be prescribed by a health care provider.
  • Side effects occur including nausea, vomiting, headache, breast tenderness, bloated feeling and swelling of hands and feet. The side effects may be less with the combination pill and more severe with the use of the high-dose estrogen alone.
  • If pregnancy does not occur, the use of these drugs can have significant effects on the developing embryo. Pregnancy termination may have to be considered.
  • The long-term effects of even one-time use of diethylstillbestrol have not been studied.


  • You should be examined by a doctor before taking a morning-after pill.
  • The pill may be taken beginning within 24 hours and not later than 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. Generally, the high-doe estrogen, is taken once daily for 5 days; the combination pill (oral contraceptive) consists of taking 2 tablets followed by 2 more tablets in 12 hours.
  • A follow-up examination in 3 to 4 weeks is recommended to assess the effectiveness of the treatment. Another form of birth control, if needed, should be discussed.