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Emergency contraception

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception can be used if you are worried about getting pregnant after unprotected sex. There are 2 main types of emergency contraception. These are the ‘morning after pill’ and the intrauterine device (IUD).

How likely am I to get pregnant?

After having unprotected sex, there is a small chance of getting pregnant. It is estimated around 5 in 100 women will get pregnant after unprotected sex.

How soon do I need to get contraception?

Ideally as soon as possible, but it can be given up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

If you are already on the combined pill or the progesterone-only pill and have missed or been late with a dose, or if you have an implant that might need renewing, then the doctor will talk to you about whether you need emergency contraception.

What are the options available to me?

There are 2 types of emergency contraception available:

The emergency contraceptive pill is often known as ‘morning after pill’

The morning after pill is a type of hormone treatment. There are 2 types which can be given. Both of these work by delaying the release of an egg and preventing the egg from implanting in the uterus (womb).

  • Levonelle is effective if given within 3 days of unprotected sex.
  • EllaOne can be given up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

Although both these pills prevent most pregnancies, they are not 100 percent preventive.

The intrauterine device (IUD)

This is a small coil that can be inserted into your vagina and goes into your womb. Once it has been put in, the IUD can stay there as more permanent contraception, or it can be removed after your next period.

The IUD is the most effective type of emergency contraception as there is only a 1 in 1000 chance of getting pregnant when this is used. It can also be useful if it has been longer than five days since unprotected sex. If you choose to have an IUD fitted, we will refer you to your GP or a sexual health clinic. We would offer you the ‘morning after pill’ as well for protection whilst the IUD is being arranged.

Are there any side effects?

As with most medicines, emergency contraception may also have side effects.

The emergency contraceptive pill

Most people tolerate this very well and side effects don’t last long. Common side effects are:

  • headache
  • stomach ache
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • vomiting

If you are sick within 3 hours of taking emergency contraception, you will need to take another dose as soon as possible. You can get this by contacting the SARC during office hours, or your local Emergency Department out of hours, or most pharmacies and NHS Walk in centres will be able to provide this.

The pill may also make your next period earlier, later or more painful than usual.

If your period is shorter or lighter than usual or delayed by more than 7 days, you will need to take a pregnancy test and speak to your doctor. You should also talk to your doctor if you have any sudden or unusual pain in your lower tummy.


This is usually very well tolerated. For some women, periods are heavier and more painful with the IUD. There are rarely other side effects such as infection.

Does emergency contraception protect me from sexually transmitted diseases (STIs)?

No, emergency contraception will only protect you from pregnancy. If you want to avoid STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or HIV, then you should use condoms. You can get these free from sexual health clinics.

What if I could be pregnant?

Before we start emergency contraception we will do a pregnancy test and will let you know the result. If you are coming back for follow up with us, then we will check a pregnancy test in around 2 weeks. Otherwise, we would strongly recommend you have a pregnancy test particularly if your period is unusual or your period is late.

What about my next period?

If your next period isn’t a normal period this may be because you have had emergency contraception, but very occasionally it may be because you are pregnant.


If your period is late by more than 7 days or is lighter than usual or comes with unusual tummy pain, you will need to have a pregnancy test.

What if I want long term contraception?

There are lots of options available for you. You can speak to your GP doctor or nurse confidentially about what options are available. You can also go to a local sexual health clinic.


Remember: the emergency contraception pill (morning after pill) won’t provide protection if you are still having sex.

Watch a helpful video by the University of Bristol here

Useful contact

Sexual Health Sheffield
Telephone: 0114 226 8888

Free and confidential sexual health services, including STI testing and treatment, contraception, pregnancy testing, emergency contraception, information and advice.

Barnsley Gateway clinic
Telephone: 0800 055 6442

Doncaster Project 3
Telephone: 01302 640 032 (Monday to Saturday) (IUDs on Thursdays)

Rotherham Integrated sexual health
Telephone: 01709 423 129 (Monday to Friday)

Emergency contraception walk-in service Saturday and Sunday morning, IUDs on Monday to Friday. Emergency contraception is also available free from any GP, sexual health clinic or pharmacy.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: SFG4

Resource Type: Article

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