The Truth About Birth Control – Part 5: Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraception – An Important Tool for Contraceptive Emergencies.

What do you do if a condom breaks or your diaphragm slips? What if you get swept away in the heat of the moment and forget to use your birth control?

Post-coital contraceptives are often referred to as the morning-after-pill, and have been around for a long time. Here in the U.S., medications have been used to prevent pregnancy after having unprotected sex since the 1970’s. Over the years these medications have evolved, becoming more effective and safe enough to be sold over the counter in many countries. In the U.S., anyone can purchase them online or in a drugstore without a prescription.

I recently read an article which reported that even though emergency contraceptives are available without a prescription, they’re not being used as much as they could be. Part of the reason behind this is because people don’t know that much about them. So, I would like to make sure you are aware of this important tool, how it’s used and how to acquire it.

There are two main categories of emergency contraceptives: oral medications and the copper IUD. Let’s start with the copper IUD since we were just talking about IUDs last week.

The Copper-T IUD (ParaGard) as Emergency Contraception

There are two different types of IUDs available in the U.S., but only ParaGard, also known as the Copper IUD has the ability to inhibit implantation and as such can be used to prevent pregnancy up until the fertilized egg has implanted on the uterine wall.

This is why the copper IUD can be used as an emergency contraception. The doctor will say that it can be used up until 5 days after you’ve potentially been exposed to sperm.

The truth is, in some cases it can actually be used up to 10 days after exposure to sperm, depending on where you are in your cycle. In my program, I teach my clients how to pinpoint ovulation, so that they know EXACTLY what to do based on where they are in their cycle.

One of the benefits of this particular method of emergency contraception is the long term contraceptive protection it offers without disrupting your cycle. If you have health insurance, getting an IUD is covered under your contraceptive services benefit, unless you work for places like Hobby Lobby or Eden Foods (yes, that’s the one you see in the health food store).

Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs)

There are a couple of different options available for emergency contraceptive pills but we’ll limit today’s conversation to the most common over the counter version, commonly known as “Plan B”. Currently, there are several different brand names available.

The hormone used in Plan B is called Levonorgestrel. You may remember this hormone from my previous post on IUDs, it’s considered to be a very safe form of synthetic progesterone. Research says medications like Plan B made with Levonorgestrel are safe for women who have had breast cancer, cardiovascular issues, stroke, migraines, etc. One of the reasons it’s considered so safe is because there is no estrogen present, and it’s the synthetic estrogen which tends to create problems.

Plan B and similar brands, come in tablet form and you can purchase them from drug stores, many grocery stores and online.

I’m of the opinion that it’s a good idea to have emergency contraceptives on hand, so that if you ever need it you don’t have to go out searching for it. For those who wish to avoid pregnancy, the sooner you are able to use it, the better your chances are to avoid becoming pregnant.

Plan-BLevonorgestrel works by delaying ovulation, so if you haven’t ovulated yet, you’re probably going to be OK. If, however, has ovulation already happened, then the drug isn’t going to help – although the copper IUD is still an option as long as the egg hasn’t implanted in the uterus yet.

You can see where being able to pinpoint ovulation becomes a really important skill.

Because emergency contraceptive pills are hormonal and postpone ovulation, they do disrupt your normal cycle. If you use them and you haven’t ovulated yet, it’s likely that your period will be late. Because ovulation has been delayed, menstruation arrives later than you’d expect it to. It’s important to understand this because a lot of women experience anxiety when their period doesn’t show up as expected.

It can take up to a month or two for your cycle to get back to normal, so be extra careful and be sure to use protection. Emergency contraceptive pills are not a reliable way to prevent pregnancy (20-30% failure rate) so you won’t want be relying on them unless there’s an emergency. Prevention is always the best way to go.

An Important Tool

Emergency contraceptives are an important tool to know about. If you have teenagers, you can help them be prepared by having the conversations about sexual situations they may find themselves in. You can also help them be prepared by making condoms and other methods of contraception available. You may consider keeping both condoms and emergency contraception around the house “just in case”.

Coming up in my next blog post, we’ll finish out the last of the modern contraception options in The Truth about Birth Control Series with a look at sterilization, including one non-surgical method which you may not have heard about. Then we’ll dive into some of my favorite topics including fertility awareness and herbs.

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