Emergency contraception (EC) can be used up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex to help prevent pregnancy. EC is 81% to 99% effective, depending on the type of EC and how soon it is used after unprotected sex.
EC is safe. For over 30 years, millions of people of all ages have safely used EC to prevent unintended pregnancies.
There are two kinds of EC:
- The most effective type of EC is an IUD (intrauterine device). An IUD is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy when placed inside the uterus by a health care provider up to 5 days after unprotected sex.
- An IUD is a small plastic device that contains either copper or a hormone like the type used in birth control pills. Both types of IUD prevent pregnancy by stopping sperm from reaching an egg.
- If you choose to continue the IUD for birth control, it will be effective for 8-12 years depending on the type. You have the right to have the IUD removed at any time for any reason.
- Check with your health care provider to see if they can place an IUD for emergency contraception within 5 days of unprotected sex. If you need a health care provider, visit the Sexual and Reproductive Health Service Locator Map to find a clinic near you.
- EC pills are 81-94% effective at preventing pregnancy depending on the type of pill and how soon it is taken. EC pills may be easier than an IUD to get and start right away after unprotected sex.
- EC pills:
- Stop an egg from leaving the ovary
- May keep sperm from meeting an egg
- Do NOT stop a fertilized egg from attaching inside the uterus
- Do NOT cause an abortion or miscarriage if you are already pregnant
- Do NOT cause any known birth defects if you are already pregnant
- Do NOT affect your ability to become pregnant in the future
- EC pills:
Two types of EC pills are approved by the FDA:
- ella® (ulipristal acetate):
- 94% effective if used within 5 days of unprotected sex. It is the most effective EC pill, especially for people who weigh more than 165 pounds, or people who can’t get and take EC until 4-5 days (73-120 hours) after unprotected sex.
- May not work as well if you weigh over 195 pounds
- Progestin EC pill (such as Plan B One-Step, Levonorgestrel, Aftera, AfterPill, BionaFem, EContra EZ, Fallback Solo, Morning After, My Choice, My Way, New Day, and others):
- 81-90% effective depending on how soon it is taken
- Works best to prevent pregnancy when it is used up to 3 days (72 hours) after unprotected sex. You can still use it from 4-5 days (73-120 hours) but it is less effective.
- May not work as well if you weigh over 165 pounds
After taking an EC pill, people sometimes experience mild, short-term side effects, such as:
- Nausea, stomach pain, headache, fatigue, or dizziness
- Call your health care provider or pharmacist if you vomit within 2-3 hours of taking an EC pill. You may need to take the EC pill again and your health care provider or pharmacist can give you medication to help prevent nausea.
- Your next period may start earlier or later than normal, and you may have more or less bleeding than usual
- If you don’t get your period by 3 weeks after you take an EC pill, you should take a pregnancy test
- Seek urgent medical care if you have severe pain in your abdomen
Take the pill as directed by the health care provider or pharmacist.
- If you have sex after taking an EC pill, you should use a back-up birth control method if possible, such as a condom, until your next period starts
- If you are chest/breast feeding, pump and discard milk for 24 hours after using ella®. If you use a progestin EC pill, you can continue chest/breast feeding without delay.
- Do not start or continue hormonal birth control until 5 days after using ella® and use a back-up birth control method (like a condom) until your next period starts. You can start or continue a hormonal birth control method immediately after using a progestin EC pill.
The health care provider or pharmacist can answer any questions you have about EC pills.
Get emergency contraception
There are many ways to get emergency contraception (EC) pills at low or no cost. As of August 2022, pharmacists can dispense prescription EC pills without needing a prescription from your health care provider. You can also get progestin EC pills over-the-counter at the pharmacy and both types of EC pills online.
- If you have MassHealth or another fully insured health plan, you can get either type of EC pill at no cost as long as you have a prescription from your health care provider. A pharmacist can also dispense EC with a standing order instead of using a prescription from a health care provider. Learn more about the ACCESS law and if you are eligible at mass.gov/BirthControl.
- ella® is available with a prescription from a health care provider or directly from a pharmacist. Pharmacists can dispense ella® because of a statewide standing order and bill your insurance. If you don’t have insurance or if your insurance doesn’t cover it, you can pay for ella® at the pharmacy or order it at low cost online at ella - PRJKT RUBY or Buy Ella Birth Control Online, Get Free Delivery - Nurx™. If you need it right away, be sure to select overnight shipping.
- Plan B One-Step® and other types of progestin EC pills are available over the counter to anyone of any age at most pharmacies. Pharmacists can dispense progestin EC pills because of a statewide standing order and bill your insurance. The cost is around $50 if you don’t have insurance or if your insurance does not cover it. You can also order at a lower cost online at EContra One-Step - PRJKT RUBY or Buy Plan B (Morning After Pill) Online with Free Delivery - Nurx™ . If you need it right away, be sure to select overnight shipping.
- Many statewide sexual and reproductive health providers provide both types of EC pills at low cost. Visit the Sexual and Reproductive Health Service Locator Map to find a clinic near you.
Don’t need EC pills right now? Ask your health care provider for a prescription ahead of time so that you can have EC pills on hand just in case.
More information and services
If you want information about other types of birth control methods, STI testing, or any other sexual and reproductive health services, ask your health care provider (doctor, nurse, midwife, or family planning counselor.) If you need a health care provider, visit the Sexual and Reproductive Health Service Locator Map to find a clinic near you.
To find other counseling programs and services near you, call (English, translation available):
- (800) 235-2331
- TTY: (617) 437-1672
Domestic Violence Hotline:
- (877) 785-2020
- TTY: (877) 521-2601
Rape Crisis Hotline:
- English: (800) 841-8371
- Spanish: (800) 223-5001
- TTY: (617) 492-6434
Boston, MA 02108