Emergency Contraception

Need to get Emergency Contraception?

Emergency Contraception (EC) is available in the Barnard College Primary Care Health Service Monday—Friday. You can make an appointment or just walk-in (please remember that walk-in hours are 9-11:30am Monday though Wednesday, 9-11am on Thursday, and 9-11:30am on Friday).

Remember that you can always get emergency contraception from Primary Care BEFORE you need it. Just make an appointment to get a small advance supply.

EC is now available without a prescription, and is carried in in most pharmacies (call ahead to make sure it is available).  These pharmacies near Barnard offer EC  over the counter. You may still want to purchase it from Primary Care because we charge considerably less than most pharmacies for EC. The choice is yours!

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency Contraception, sometimes known as the morning after pill, can prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. At Primary Care we use an Emergency Contraception called Plan B. Plan B contains a high dose of progestin, one of the two hormones contained in birth control pills. Plan B provides a short, strong burst hormone exposure that disrupts the hormone pattern associated with possible pregnancy. 

You may have a need for Emergency Contraception if...

-you were forced to have sex (and had no protection)
-a condom broke or slipped off
-you didn't use any birth control method
-you had sex when you didn't expect to (and had no protection)
-you missed more than two birth control pills in a row this cycle and didn't make them up

Consistent use of a contraceptive method before sex are the best way to protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy. If, however, you have had unprotected intercourse and you are certain that you do not desire to be pregnant, you may want to consider using Emergency Contraception.

What is my risk of becoming pregnant with unprotected intercourse?

When you have sexual intercourse without any contraception, your risk of becoming pregnant depends on where you are in your menstrual cycle. During your most fertile days, about two weeks before your next period should begin (or midway between two menstrual periods if you have a monthly cycle), the risk could be as high as 30%. If you use Emergency Contraception, your chance of becoming pregnant is reduced by about 75%-89%. For example, a 30% risk would be reduced to no more than 7%.

How effective is Emergency Contraception?

The average risk of becoming pregnant even if you take Emergency Contraception is about 2% (range 0-7%). EC can reduce the risk of pregnancy when taken within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected intercourse. It is more effective the sooner it is taken.

When might it make sense to use Emergency Contraception?

Emergency Contraception makes sense if you had unprotected intercourse just once since your last menstrual period and that unprotected time was no more than 72-120 hours ago. If you have had unprotected intercourse more than once since your last normal menstrual cycle, and at least one of those times was more than 120 hours ago, you may already be pregnant. If you are already pregnant, Emergency Contraception will not work.

Please understand that Emergency Contraception is an emergency method only, and is not a substitute for other available forms of contraception!!

What would I do if Emergency Contraception fails?

Emergency Contraception is highly affective and the failure rate is low. However, if it does fail, you should consult a health care provider.

Are there side effects?

Side effects with Plan B are much less common than with the older Emergency Contraception. Nausea is less common than with the older Emergency Contraception prescription, and vomiting occurs in 5%. We do not generally prescribe any anti-nausea medication.

Are there any serious risks?

The studies of Emergency Contraception have demonstrated that they work well. No serious health problems resulting from their use have been reported. The only women who should not use Plan B are those who are already pregnant, have unexplained genital bleeding, or have a hypersensitivity to the progestin levonorgestrel.

For most women, Emergency Contraception is a simple, safe option that can greatly reduce the chance of pregnancy after unprotected intercourse.

Is it safe to use my friend's birth control pills as a substitute for Emergency Contraception?

It is not safe to use your friend’s birth control pill or old unused birth control pills as a substitute for Emergency Contraception unless you have specific instructions from a health care provider. All birth control pills are different and many do not have the correct ratio of hormones to effectively block pregnancy. Furthermore, high doses of regular birth control pills frequently cause nausea and/or vomiting. They are best used with prescription strength anti-nausea pills to ensure correct absorption with minimum side effects.

Isn't the French pill, RU486, Emergency Contraception?

RU486 has been shown to be an effective Emergency Contraception, but is not yet approved by the FDA for this purpose. It is usually used to induce an abortion once you are already pregnant. The Health Services does not prescribe RU486 as Emergency Contraception.