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Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP)

Hormonal Method

Emergency contraceptives are hormone-based pills that are used in the event of accidental unprotected sex.

ECP 49
Emergency Contraceptive Pill (ECP)

ON Time

Highly effective when used as directed
Emergency care
Widely available

Details / How to


The emergency pill, or “morning after pill”, can protect you from pregnancy if you have had unprotected sex or if the contraception method you have used fails, such as a condom splitting. Emergency contraceptive pills contain hormones which work by preventing the release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation). They do not work if you are already pregnant. The sooner you take emergency contraception after unprotected sex, the better it works. Depending on the type of pill, it can be taken up to 3 to 5 days after unprotected sex, but your healthcare provider will advise you.


You need to take the emergency pill as soon as possible after unprotected sex as it becomes less effective the longer you wait. After using it, use another form of contraception to protect yourself from an unplanned pregnancy. Emergency contraception should not be used as your regular form of contraception. Speak to your healthcare provider if you are unsure about which contraceptive method is best for you.

Pros / Cons


  • A very effective form of contraception, with an effectiveness rate of 99.9%
  • It does not interrupt sex
  • It is suitable for women who want to avoid having to remember to take contraceptive pills or injections, and who want a long-acting, reversible contraceptive method.
  • It is useful for women who cannot use contraception that contains oestrogen.



  • It has to be fitted and removed by a trained healthcare professional
  • You may feel some bruising, tenderness or swelling around the implant when it is first inserted
  • There may be a change in your periods – they may become irregular, lighter, heavier or longer
  • It does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV, so you may need to use condoms as well


In the first few days after taking the emergency contraceptive pill, you may experience:

  • Slight irregular bleeding for 1–2 days
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Tender breasts
  • Dizziness


Your monthly period may start earlier or later than expected.

Frequently Asked Questions

Emergency contraception (morning after pill) is most effective when taken within 12-24 hours after unprotected sex. Efficacy changes over time: while it’s 95% effective within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex, that number drops to 58% when the pill is taken within 49-72 hours. For the best chance for it to work, you should take the emergency pill as soon as possible.

Yes, you can use the emergency pill if something has gone wrong with your usual form of contraception, for example a forgotten pill (only if the intake is more than 48 hours ago) or split condom.

Women who take ECPs should understand that they could become pregnant the next time they have sex unless they begin to use another method of contraception at once. Because ECPs delay ovulation in some women, she may be most fertile soon after taking ECPs. If she wants ongoing protection from pregnancy, she must start using another contraceptive method at once.

Repeated administration within a menstrual cycle is not advisable because of the possibility of disturbance of the cycle and a very high hormone dose. The emergency pill (morning after pill) should not be relied on as a regular form of contraception, and it is not as effective as other forms of hormonal contraception specifically made for regular use – it is only intended as a back-up.

No. Emergency contraceptives (morning after pill) do not work if a woman is already pregnant. When taken before a woman has ovulated, emergency pills prevent the release of an egg from the ovary or delay its release by 5 to 7 days. By then, any sperm in the woman’s reproductive tract will have died, since sperm can survive there for only about 6 days.

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