One little pill, so many questions
Whether the condom broke or you forgot to take your pill, it’s a good idea to have a plan B—pun intended. But with all the different information circulating about emergency contraception—hearsay from your BFF or misinformed comments made by politicians—it can be tough to separate fact from fiction. To put your mind at ease, we tapped the minds of top experts to clear up some of the top myths about the day after’s back up strategy: Plan B.
“The morning after pill does not literally need to be taken the morning after in order for it to work,” says Jen Landa, M.D., an ob-gyn and hormone specialist. While there are several different types of emergency contraception pills, Plan B is the most commonly used. It should optimally be used in the first 72 hours after an episode of unprotected sex, says Landa. (Though she does note that if taken in the first 24 hours, Plan B is up to 95 percent effective.)
“Emergency contraception pills are completely different from medical abortion pills,” says Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure. The difference boils down to the mechanism used to prevent or lose an unwanted pregnancy. Plan B will not affect an existing pregnancy or harm a developing fetus—it only has the ability to inhibit ovulation, Gottfried explains. As for medical abortion pills, those actually cause the fetus to stop developing and trigger the uterus to expel the pregnancy.
Repeated use of Plan B will not permanently mess up your fertility, but it’s not something you want to get in the habit of doing, says Landa. First off, there are cheaper—and more effective!—methods of BC out there. What’s more, if you use Plan B too often, your cycle could become very irregular making it difficult to know when you’re fertile and whether or not you’ve become pregnant.
A dose of Plan B in the a.m. is not a hall pass for risky sex at night. While levonorgestrel—the active ingredient in Plan B—stays in your body a few days after taking it, the levels in your body decrease within hours of the dose, Gottfried says. That means the effectiveness of Plan B (against future sexual encounter) is greatly reduced. Also, sperm can stay alive in the body for up to seven days—far longer than the peak dose of Plan B—so that means an egg could become fertilized any time in that window, says Gottfried.