How Does the Morning After Pill Work? 

image001The morning after pill is a type of emergency contraception that is used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if the regular birth control has failed. These pills contain Ella, also known as ulipristal or Plan B One-Step. These have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use, but countries outside of the United States may have other brands available. Read on to know how such pills work and the precautions you need pay attention to.

How Does the Morning After Pill Work?

When you have had unprotected sex, either because you did not use birth control or the method of birth control you planned to use failed, you may need to use methods to protect yourself if you do not want to become pregnant. Morning after pills can help you prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex because conception will not occur immediately after the sex has occurred. In fact, the conception may occur several days after the sex has occurred. The morning after pill is intended to be taken within 72 hours after the unprotected sex.

  • The morning after pill will work differently based on the point you are in your menstrual cycle. It will either delay your ovulation or prevent ovulation from occurring, block potential fertilization or prevent the fertilized egg from properly embedding in the uterine lining.
  • The female reproductive system follows a menstrual cycle that requires several hormones to remain functional. After your period has ended the pituitary glands will release a follicle stimulating hormone or FSH that informs the follicles in the ovaries must prepare for ovulation. Once the follicle has fully developed it will start releasing estrogen that causes the lining of the uterus to thicken so it can accept a fertilized egg. When ovulation is about to begin the ovaries will secrete progesterone for about two weeks.
  • As the estrogen levels begin to rise in the blood, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland will note these changes. Once the estrogen levels reach the proper level, the pituitary gland will release a luteinizing hormone or LH that tells the follicle it is time to release the egg to the fallopian tube. Once the egg arrives here it can be fertilized by sperm during the next 24 hour window.
  • While there is only a 24 hour window where the egg can become fertilized, sperm are capable of living for 3-5 days once they arrive in a woman’s body, so a woman that has sex a few days before she ovulates may be able to become pregnant. Therefore, the sooner you use emergency conception, the more likely it is that this backup birth control will be effective.
  • If the egg is fertilized during ovulation it will become implanted in the thickened uterine wall. At this point a woman is considered pregnant. If the egg is not fertilized or something goes wrong and the egg is not able to implant in the wall properly the woman will begin to menstruate around two weeks after her ovulation to shed this excess uterine lining. At this point the cycle will repeat itself as necessary until menopause begins as a woman ages.

Precautions for Taking Morning After Pills

Knowing how does the morning after pill work is not enough; take these precautions in mind:

  • Check with your doctor to make sure the pill will not interfere with any medications you are already taking and to make sure it is safe to use the pill while breast feeding.
  • Those under the age of 16 will need a prescription to use the morning after pill, but those seventeen or older can gain access to this medication over the counter at most pharmacies.
  • You also should not take the morning after pill if you might be allergic to any of the ingredients.
  • You will not be able to take the morning-after pill to stop a pregnancy that has already begun, after the egg has become implanted in the uterus.
  • The morning-after pill is not the same thing as Mifeprex or mifepristone, also known as the abortion pill or RU-486. The abortion pill is specifically designed to terminate an existing pregnancy, or an egg that has already been fertilized, attached to the uterine wall and begun to develop.
  • It should be noted that some brands of the morning-after pill such as Next Choice or the Plan B One-Step may not be able to prevent implantation so you should talk to your doctor if this is a risk.
  • You will be able to follow your normal birth control regimen during this time. However, taking this pill may delay the period by up to a week. If the period does not come after a week, you should take a pregnancy test to make sure the medication was effective.