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Let’s get to the bottom of this, once and for all.
The morning-after pill is a form of emergency contraception that can prevent pregnancy when taken after having unprotected sex.
It comes in a few different forms, but the morning-after pill most often refers to Plan B One-Step (and generics like Next Choice One Dose), which can be purchased over the counter. It’s a single pill with a high dose of levonorgestrel, the same progestin hormone found in many birth control pills, and it can be used up to 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex.
Another pill option is Ella, or ulipristal acetate, which can be used up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex, but it requires a prescription. Both Plan B and Ella primarily work by delaying ovulation, and they may in some cases also work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
Although we’ll focus on the pills in this article, it’s worth mentioning that the copper IUD can also be used as an emergency contraceptive. It’s extremely effective if inserted within five days of unprotected sex and offers pregnancy protection for up to 10 years.
FYI: The morning-after pill is not the same as the abortion pill.
Emergency contraception pills like Plan B and Ella will not terminate an existing pregnancy. It’s not the same as the abortion pill, otherwise known as a medical abortion, where a person takes a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol to terminate an early pregnancy.
Since the morning-after pill is really meant for emergencies, you might be wondering if it’s harmful to take it too often.
BuzzFeed Health reached out to two experts to find out: Dr. Alyssa Dweck, board-certified OB-GYN, author of The Complete A to Z for Your V; and Dr. Lauren Streicher, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school, and author of Sex Rx