What is Emergency Contraception
Emergency contraception is used to reduce the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse. There are two types of emergency contraceptives available in South Africa:
- Emergency contraceptive pills (EC pills)
- The Copper Intrauterine device (Cu-IUD)
Emergency contraceptives are most effective when taken (pill) or inserted (Cu-IUD) within the first 24 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse but remain effective within the first 120 hours (5 days). The pill is more effective the earlier it is taken and the effectiveness of the IUD remains the same throughout the 5 days.
Generally, the pill is recommended as it is simpler and is less invasive than Cu-IUD which needs to be inserted. Of importance, you can get emergency contraceptive pills at the pharmacy without prescription.
Insertion of Cu IUD is recommended if:
- You present late in the 120 hour (5 day) window
- You want it to be your contraception of use beyond the 120 hours
- The emergency contraceptive pills make you vomit
Emergency contraceptive pills: what are these?
Emergency contraceptive pills are hormonal contraceptive methods (see family planning booklet) that have higher concentrations of hormones than the normal daily pill contraceptives. They work by inhibiting or delaying ovulation (release of the egg from the ovum). These do not cause abortion as they do not effect an already established pregnancy.
Nausea and vomiting. To reduce this, take the pills with food. Should you vomit within 2 hours of taking the emergency pill, take a repeat dose.
Return to fertility
Return to fertility is immediate after the use of emergency contraceptive.
How to correctly take emergency contraceptive pills
This should be addressed by the healthcare provider at your service. Emergency contraceptive pills are normally taken twice; the first dose within 120 hours and the second dose 12 hours after the first.
Points of consideration
- Your next menses after emergency contraception may come a few days earlier or later than normal
- Use condoms for the rest of your cycle
- You can be started on regular contraception at the same time as emergency contraception
- If your period does not start within a week after it was expected, you should take a pregnancy test.
A Cu-IUD or Copper IUD is a small device which is inserted into your uterus. This is the most effective form of emergency contraceptive. It works by preventing fertilisation of the egg by sperm or implantation (settling onto the uterus) of the fertilised egg. The device may be left in the uterus and continue to act as regular contraceptive.
If you do not want the Cu-IUD as your choice of IUD after it is used as emergency contraceptive, you can opt for it to be removed during your next menses.
Please read our booklet on Family Planning to read more about the EC pills and the Cu-IUD