Emergency contraception

A woman's hand opening a blister pack with a white pill in it

Backup birth control

A condom breaks. You forget to take your pill. No matter your situation, you can use emergency contraception as backup birth control up to 5 days after unprotected sex. It’s a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy.

You should use emergency contraception if:

  • You had sex without any kind of birth control

  • You forgot to take your birth control (missed a pill, forgot to insert the ring, or forgot to put on the patch)

  • A condom breaks or leaks

  • You were forced to have unprotected sex

Here's what you need to know

There are 3 products available for emergency contraception:

1. Levonorgestrel pill

  • This hormone pill is available without a prescription at drugstores and pharmacies — including Kaiser Permanente. It’s also commonly referred to as the morning-after pill.

  • You don’t need to share any private information to get it.

  • A few common over-the-counter brands are Plan B and EContra. But there are several other brands available. Look for the active ingredient: levonorgestrel 1.5 mg.

  • It works best if you take it within 3 days after unprotected sex. 

  • It may not work as well if you weigh more than 165 pounds (75 kg) or have a body mass index of 30 or higher. 

2. Ulipristal acetate pill

  • There’s only one brand of this morning-after pill. It’s called ella.

  • You need a prescription from a health care provider to get it. 

  • You can take it up to 5 days after unprotected sex, and it works just as well on day 5 as it does on day 1.

3. Copper IUD

  • It needs to be inserted by a health care provider within 5 days after unprotected sex.

  • It’s the most effective form of emergency contraception, at nearly 100%.* 

  • Once inserted, the copper IUD provides ongoing pregnancy prevention for up to 10 to 12 years, or until you choose to have it removed.

How emergency contraception works

  • Without an egg, you cannot get pregnant. Emergency contraceptive pills work by preventing the release of an egg. Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion. If you’re already pregnant, it will not affect the pregnancy.

  • Emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs). Use a condom to reduce your risk of STIs.

Risk factors for emergency contraception

  • Emergency contraception is safe. There are no long-term or severe side effects.
  • Emergency contraceptive pills and the copper IUD have no effect on your ability to get pregnant in the future. A copper IUD also provides ongoing pregnancy prevention for up to 10 to 12 years or until you have it removed. 
  • Some people experience minor discomfort like nausea, vomiting, headache, or stomach pain the day or 2 after taking an emergency contraceptive pill.

 Choosing the right emergency contraceptive

There are several factors to consider when deciding on the type of emergency contraception to use, such as: 

  • When you had unprotected sex
  • How easy it is for you to get it
  • Your height and weight
  • If you’ve used the pill, patch, or ring in the last 5 days
  • Whether you’re breastfeeding

Talk to a provider about the best emergency contraception method for you. You can call us 24/7 for advice or set up a same-day phone appointment with a provider. You can tell the provider about your situation and they can quickly give you a recommendation.

And if all else fails, remember that using whichever method you can get is still better than not using anything at all.


  • Take emergency contraception as soon as possible. The sooner the better.

  • Emergency contraceptive pills work only for one episode of unprotected sex. If you have unprotected sex again in the same month, you need to take it again.

  • Don't take more than one dose of either morning-after pill at a time. It won't give you extra protection from pregnancy.

  • Don't use 2 different kinds of morning-after pills at the same time. They may counteract each other.

  • It's always a good idea to keep emergency contraception on hand in case you need it.


Your right to privacy

You can get confidential health care for birth control, STIs/STDs, pregnancy, depression, and other mental health conditions, including drug and alcohol use. That means anything you and your provider talk about will stay between you and your health care team. Your privacy is protected by law. The only time your provider would break confidentiality is if you tell them you’re being abused or if you plan to hurt yourself or someone else — in those situations, they’re required to do so by law. If you have any issues you’d like to keep completely private, call the doctor’s office and ask to set up a confidential appointment.

Schedule a confidential visit



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© 2020 Kaiser Permanente

* “Emergency Contraception,” Planned Parenthood, PlannedParenthood.org/learn/morning-after-pill-emergency-contraception/how-does-copper-iud-work-emergency-contraception, accessed August 13, 2019.