What is emergency contraception or the “morning after pill”?
Emergency contraception (also known as the "morning after pill”) is a well-tolerated and effective method of preventing an unplanned pregnancy after sexual intercourse.
Emergency contraceptive pills are often called the “morning after pill”. However, the term “morning after” can be misleading as emergency contraception does not only have to be taken the morning after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception is effective if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, however, the earlier you take it, the better. Emergency contraception is most effective if taken within the first 12 hours after sex.
When and in what circumstances can you use emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception is recommended for the prevention of a pregnancy within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse, particularly in the following situations:
If you have had sexual intercourse where either you or your partner did not use a contraceptive method;
If your partner's condom has broken, slipped or been improperly removed, or if he has forgotten to use one;
If you have missed an oral contraceptive pill;
If you fear that your intrauterine device has been expelled;
If your vaginal diaphragm or contraceptive cap has moved or if you have removed it too early;
If you are afraid that the method of coitus interruptus (withdrawal) has failed or if you have had sexual intercourse during the period when you are supposed to be fertile when using the rhythm method;
In the event of rape.
Remember that if sexual intercourse has occurred without a condom, you may also have been exposed to infectious agents, such as bacteria or a virus (gonorrhoea, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis). If you have any concerns or questions in this regard, it is advisable that you speak to a healthcare professional.
How does emergency contraception work?
Emergency contraception works before pregnancy can occur by preventing the release of an egg (ovulation). It cannot terminate or interrupt an established pregnancy nor harm a developing embryo.
Emergency contraception will not work if you are already pregnant.
Do you need a prescription for emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception is available without a prescription from most pharmacies and clinics. A pharmacist may not sell emergency contraception to you if you are under the age of 14, unless you have a doctor’s prescription or are accompanied by either a parent or legal guardian.
Where can you purchase emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception is available at most pharmacies and clinics throughout South Africa. If you are under 14, it is advisable that you visit your local doctor or family planning clinic for advice.
Is emergency contraception always effective?
In clinical trials, the proportion of pregnancies avoided after the use of emergency contraception varied from 52 % to 85 % of expected pregnancies2. Efficacy appears to decline with time after intercourse (95 % within 24 hours, 85 % within 24-48 hours and 58 % if used between 48 and 72 hours)2.
Efficacy is higher when emergency contraception is used as early as possible.
Remember, emergency contraception does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV/AIDS.
2 Data on file
If you have a specific question about the morning after pill that you would like answered, please contact your healthcare professional or e-mail us