Birth Control Options
What is it?
Emergency contraception (EC) is a back-up method of preventing pregnancy after having an unplanned, unprotected sexual encounter or when the method of birth control fails (ie. condom broke). Currently there are two types of EC available to women:
- Hormonal EC methods (Plan B, NorLevo and Yuzpe method)
- Copper Intrauterine device (IUD)
Each Plan B package contains a single dose 1.5mg of synthetic progestin called levonorgestrel, which is a commonly used ingredient in birth control pill. Plan B is taken as soon as possible (up to 5 days) after contraceptive accident or unprotected sex. More detailed information on Plan B.
Each NorLevo pill contains synthetic progestin called levonorgestrel. Two pills are taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex (up to 5 days). More detailed information on NorLevo.
Series of 4 pills containing estrogen and progesterone. Ovral* (a type of birth control pill) is the most commonly used pill for this method of emergency contraception. It can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse. Two Ovral* pills are taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex (up to 5 days) and two more pills are taken exactly 12 hours after the first dose.
An IUD (Intrauterine Device) may be used as an emergency contraception and for ongoing long term birth control. It can be inserted by a health professional up to 7 days after unprotected sex.
How does it work?
Hormonal EC methods work in the same way. If taken within 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex, the medication may prevent a pregnancy from occurring. They work in one of three ways:
- Temporarily stops the release of an egg from the ovary
- Prevents fertilization of the egg
- Prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus (implantation)
The copper IUD works by creating a hostile chemical environment in the uterus for the sperm and eggs.
Emergency contraception is not an abortion. They will not work against an existing pregnancy.
Should be used when:
- No birth control was used
- Birth control pill, patch or ring were missed
- Condom slipped, broke or leaked
- Diaphragm or cervical cap is dislodged during sex or removed too early
- Sexual assault has occurred
Which type of emergency contraception is right for me?
Health Canada recently added new warnings to product packages that levonorgestrel-only emergency contraceptives (Plan B & NorLevo) are less effective in women weighing 165 to 176 pounds (75-80 kg) and are not effective in women over 176 pounds (80 kg). An alternative method of emergency contraception involves the insertion of a Copper IUD up to 5 days following unprotected sex.
How effective is it?
Emergency contraception has similar rates of success in preventing pregnancy. However, the sooner it is taken, the more effective it is.
- Plan B and NorLevo can reduce the risk of pregnancy by about 89%. (95% of pregnancies prevented if taken within 24 hours, about 58% of pregnancies prevented if taken within 48 to 72 hours)
- The Copper IUD is the most effective method of emergency contraception (almost 100%)
- The Yuzpe method is between 77% and 31% effective in preventing pregnancy when taken within 5 days
What are the disadvantages?
- Hormonal methods of emergency contraception do not provide long-term protection against future pregnancies. They will only work to prevent pregnancy for the current incident.
- They do not protect against sexually transmitted infections
- The copper IUD must be inserted by a health professional
- Hormonal methods may cause side effects in some people, including: nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, headaches, cramping, diarrhea, vaginal bleeding or spotting, dizziness or fatigue
Where can I get it?
Emergency contraception is available from:
- Your doctor
- Health centres
- Walk-in clinics
- Birth control/sexual health clinics
- Any emergency department
- Pharmacies (No prescription needed)