5 things about Emergency Contraceptive Pills that you might not know

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“It just happened! So unexpected”

“We ran out of condoms at 11PM in the night!”

“It happened in a moment of passion!”

Whatever be your excuse for unprotected sex, if you have been in such a situation, more often than not you or your partner/boyfriend must have definitely gone looking for an emergency contraceptive pill the next morning.

Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs), also known as morning-after pills, Plan-B and postcoital contraception, safely and effectively help reduce chances of pregnancy after unprotected intercourse and have proven to be a medical blessing for a number of women around the world.

Emergency oral contraception is used to prevent a pregnancy, not end one. They work primarily by delaying ovulation. Emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

There has been a constant increase in the number of women who feel at ease using this method of emergency contraception. It has gained the trust and dependence of women from all over the world.

In India, regulations on these pills have changed frequently, so it can be quite confusing. But how well informed are we about ECPs? How often can you consume an ECP? More often than not, women are uncomfortable to discuss about these pills with their gynaecologists. So there is definitely a need to demystify the concept of Emergency Contraceptive Pills.

Here is a list of 5 things you might not know about these pills-

1) You can purchase them without ID or prescription

The government and the pharmacy firms started calling attention to Emergency Contraceptive Pills as an advantageous option for women since 2002, but made them available over the counters after 2005. Except some cities like Chennai where there is still confusion. You can get the pill over the counter without a prescription, at your local drugstore, making this Emergency Contraceptive option the most accessible and practical one.

You might feel embarrassed to go to a pharmacy and ask for the pills, but your uneasiness can take a back seat because your safety is much more important. It is understandable that making your sex life transparent to a stranger seems like a bad idea, but the pharmacist has heard it all before and will try his/her best to make you feel reassured.

2) They cannot be used as abortion pills, regular birth control pills or protection against STI’s

A lot of misconceptions revolve around Emergency Contraceptive Pills among women.  Three regular myths about ECPs are:

ECPs cause abortion: Commonly available brands in India contain Levonorgestrel as their component, which is a progestin. ‘Progestin’ in the case of these pills is a synthetic steroid hormone which prevents pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, altering transport of sperm or eggs to prevent fertilization, or altering the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation if fertilization occurs. However, it will not terminate an existing pregnancy as Levonorgestrel is not physiologically capable of doing that.

ECPs provide protection against STIs: Another common misconception among the users is regarding the ability of these pills to provide protection against Sexually Transmitted Diseases. These pills do not serve this function.

ECPs can be used as everyday birth control pills: Emergency Contraceptive Pills are chemically different from the regular birth control pills and do not serve the same purpose. While it is safe to use these pills often, you might want to consider other birth control options if you find yourself using them a lot.

3) The morning-after pills can be used even when other means of birth control are already in use

You may use the pill in case of failure of the proper usage of any other type of birth control method during any time of the cycle. For example, you can use it if you are unsure about whether you missed a dosage or two of your regular birth control pills, if you forgot to substitute your ring or patch, if you miscalculated ‘safe days’, or in the incidence of ripping of the condom. Usage of ECP in cases like these will produce no added harmful effects. In fact, ECPs were made especially to help in specific situations like these.

4) There are be a number of probable side effects

You could also experience one or more side effects after consuming an ECP. The kind of side effects that women experience generally differs from individual to individual, as each body reacts to differently. Common side effects include headache, nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness, fatigue, mood changes, vaginal discharge, decreased libido, hot flushes and irregular menstrual cycle. Some rare side effects may also call for medical attention. These include chest pain, shortness of breath, eye problems like blurring of vision, severe leg or arm pain and severe abdominal pain. However, all the alarming side effects mentioned on the back of the pack do not necessarily happen to most people. In fact, most women do not feel any side effects at all and the pills are well tolerated by the body.

5) Plan B is not absolutely potent and there will still be a chance of pregnancy

On an average, in case of most pills, ECPs promise about 80-95% effectiveness if consumed within the period of efficacy that is 72 hours. So no form of Emergency Contraception is 100% functional, although IUCD comes close with an effectiveness rate of 99.9% when inserted within five days of unprotected sex. The copper coil is toxic to eggs and sperm, so it stops the egg from being fertilized. If the fertilization has already taken place, it prevents the fertilized eggs from getting attached to the womb. However, the Levonorgestrel ​pill remains the most common form of Emergency Contraceptive and the IUCD is lesser known than the pill itself.

Nonetheless, it does not mean that you should refrain from the use of the pills in the case of requirement. If you follow the instructions carefully, the odds of effectiveness are quite high and you would get the desired outcome, which is prevention of pregnancy.

About the writer:

Purnima P.V is pursuing History(Hons) from Miranda House, University of Delhi. Although a huge history buff, sociology is her one true love. She is also a photographer by passion. She describes herself as an ambivert, an amateur traveler, an avid reader with a special interest in the genre of fictional non-fantasy, a politically opinionated feminist, and an ally as well as a member of the LGTBQIA community.

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