Emergency contraception | Western Cape Government

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Emergency contraception

oral contraceptivesLife can be unpredictable sometimes and doesn't always go as planned.

If you've had unprotected sex and fear that it may lead to an unwanted pregnancy, you can consider taking an emergency contraceptive. 

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception can be used after you've had unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.  You can either take it orally in tablet form or have an intrauterine device (IUD) fitted.

When can emergency contraception be taken?

Preferably emergency contraception should be taken within 1 to 2 days after having unprotected sex, but there are treatments which can work if taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex.  Remember that the sooner emergency contraception is taken, the better.

How does emergency contraception work?Woman getting medical advice from the doctor about emergency contraceptives.
Pregnancy doesn’t happen immediately after sex. It can take up to 6 days for the sperm and egg to meet. This makes it possible to prevent pregnancy even after you've had unprotected sex.  Emergency contraception delays the release of an egg from your ovary and when there is no egg for the sperm to fertilise you can’t get pregnant.

If you use the IUD as emergency contraception, it must be inserted by a healthcare professional within 5 days (120 hours) of you having unprotected sex. The IUD is 99.9% effective even if inserted on day 5. The IUD can stay in your body for up to 5 years as a form of long-term protection.

Is emergency contraception safe?

Yes, women have been using emergency contraception for many years. There have been no reports of serious side effects when using the different types of emergency contraception.

What are the side effects?

It’s possible that you may experience some of the following side effects after using emergency contraceptives.

  • Possible changes in your period. It may be earlier or later as well as heavier or lighter than usual.
  • Possible breast tenderness, dizziness or headaches.
  • Possible nausea or vomiting. Note that if you vomit within 2 hours of taking the pill, it won’t be effective and you’ll need to take another one.

Where do I get emergency contraceptives?

You can access contraceptives and counselling at our health care clinics or contact private institutions such as private health clinics. 

Marie Stopes:
Tel: 021 422 4660
Call centre: 0800 11 77 85
Email: info@mariestopes.org.za

If you need information on other forms of contraception and family planning please visit our Contraception (family planning) page.

The content on this page was last updated on 28 December 2018