Emergency contraception: Morning after pill and more
There are two emergency contraceptive pills available in the UK: Levonelle (One Step or 1500) and ellaOne.
An emergency contraception pill is sometimes called the "morning after pill" but you don't have to wait until the morning after sex to take it. In fact, Levonelle is more effective the sooner you take it and you should take it within 72 hours (three days) of having unprotected sex.
What's the difference between Levonelle One Step and Levonelle 1500?
There is no difference in content: both Levonelle One Step and Levonelle 1500 contain a one pill dose with 1.5 milligrams of levonorgestrel. This is a synthetic hormone that has been used in contraceptive pills for more than 35 years. However, the levels of progestogen in Levonelle One Step and Levonelle 1500 are higher than those in birth control pills.
The main difference between Levonelle One Step and Levonelle 1500 is how you get them. Both are available free of charge on prescription but Levonelle One Step can also be bought over the counter at your local pharmacy. The price will vary but at the pharmacy it will cost around £20. All the advice and treatment you receive is confidential - wherever you receive it.
According to the Family Planning Association you have to be 16 or over to buy Levonelle from the pharmacist. They will need to ask you some questions and there are some circumstances when they may not be able to sell it to you, for example if:
- It has been more than 72 hours since you had unprotected sex
- You have had unprotected sex more than once in the menstrual cycle
- You think that you might already be pregnant
- You are taking certain prescribed or complementary medicines
- You have certain health conditions.
In these circumstances you will need to see a doctor or nurse.
How does Levonelle One Step or Levonelle 1500 work?
Depending upon where you are in your cycle, Levonelle One Step or Levonelle 1500 may work in one of these ways:
- It may prevent or delay ovulation.
- It may interfere with fertilisation of an egg.
It is also possible that this type of emergency birth control prevents implantation of a fertilised egg in your uterus by altering its lining.
Levonelle One Step or Levonelle 1500 does not cause a miscarriage or abortion. In other words, it does not stop development of a foetus once the fertilised egg implants in your uterus. So it will not work if you are already pregnant when you take it.
How effective is Levonelle One Step or Levonelle 1500?
If you take it within 72 hours after you've had unprotected sex, Levonelle can reduce your risk of pregnancy by up to 58% if taken between 49-72 hours, up to 85% if taken between 25-48 hours, and up to 95% if taken with within 24 hours.
However, you should know that Levonelle One Step or Levonelle 1500 is not as effective as regular contraception. So don't take it as your main form of family planning. Also, it does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections. Think of it as a backup -- not for routine use.