The Health Insider’s Ashley Keller tells you what you need to – and didn’t – know about emergency contraceptives in Canada.

Mistakes happen. Whether it’s a broken condom, accidentally skipped birth control or a partner who promised they’d pull out, emergency contraceptives are essential when things don’t go to plan. 

Also known as the morning-after pill, emergency contraceptives help prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or when birth control fails. 

It’s a great back-up to have when the unexpected happens, but should not be your main method of birth control. 

This miracle of science works by delaying or preventing ovulation. With no egg available to fertilize, you won’t get pregnant. 

But there’s a catch: if the egg has already been released into the uterus, the pill won’t do much.

There’s no need to worry about the pill affecting the health of your new fetus. The morning after pill is not an abortion pill and it will not end an existing pregnancy. 

This catch is why timing is crucial for the pill to work. Even with perfect use, it may not help. If the egg has already been released before you can nab a pill, you’re out of luck.

There are two kinds of pills available in Canada: levonorgestrel (Plan B), which is available over the counter, and ulipristal (Ella), which requires a prescription.

While both are effective at preventing pregnancy, you can’t take both within the same week. The pills cancel each other out, so you’ll be more likely to get pregnant if you do.

Levonorgestrel costs $15-35 and is available at any sexual health clinic, pharmacy or Costco. Costs will vary depending on location.

For the best chance at preventing pregnancy, take Plan B within 24 hours. While it can be taken up to 72 hours after sex, the pill is less and less effective every extra hour after day one. 

A crucial, but little known fact, is that Plan B has an easy to hit weight limit. If you weigh 165 pounds or more, the pill will be less successful.

Of course, people above this weight can still take the pill and it may work, but a prescription option would be more potent and likely to help.

Emergency contraceptives will react with hormonal birth control and it’s important to know how. After taking Plan B, hormonal birth control won’t work for a week. Use non-hormonal methods, like condoms, to avoid pregnancy in the meantime. 

Ulipristal costs between $50-90. It’s available at any pharmacy, but you’ll need a prescription first.

The stronger option, Ella can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex and still be up to 85 per cent effective. But remember, if the egg has already been released, the timeline no longer matters. 

Ella also has a weight limit that’s important to know. It will not be as effective for anyone who weighs over 195 pounds. 

Pills like Ella can cancel out the effects of hormonal birth control for five days after taking it. Use non-hormonal methods during this time instead.

Breastfeeding mothers can feel safe taking either of these pills. Plan B has no effect on breast milk, so mothers can feed freely. With Ella, mothers should discard their milk for 24 hours after taking the pill, but can then resume normal feedings. 

Like any medication, there are some side effects you should know. Contact your doctor if you vomit within two hours of taking the pill. They’ll tell you whether or not you should take another dose. 

Emergency contraceptives can delay your period for a week. Keep track of your first period post medication and take a pregnancy test within four weeks of your missed period. 

Plan B doesn’t work for everyone, especially considering its weight limit. But luckily there’s a plan C – copper IUDS.

A copper IUD  works a little differently than the pills. Rather than changing ovulation, copper prevents the egg from implanting and being fertilized.

Though it can cost anywhere between $50 and $350 depending on location, it has an added bonus of also working as non-hormonal birth control.

Copper IUDs are the most effective form of birth control and can last up to 10 years. It can work as an emergency contraceptive up to five to seven days after unprotected sex.

Along with insertion pain, copper IUDs come with some side effects.

Take control of your sexual health and family planning. Subscribe to The Health Insider to learn more about Canadian healthcare. 

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