The Morning After Pill: A Breakdown

Babies and children aren’t for everyone. Sure, some are great. I mean, we all have that favourite younger family member who is cute, (mostly) clean but if chaos were to ensue we know that we can just give them back to their guardians. Sometimes though, all you do see is the smelly, screaming, temper tantrum throwing goblins running around the shopping complex with little to no regard of the world around them. Dragging what were once fully functioning adults – but are now Disney and vomit clad zombies, with vocabularies limited to 3-syllable words and internally polarised vaccination opinions, behind them. While I have been promised parenthood is a very rewarding and fulfilling experience, for those content being the tantrum throwers themselves, here’s how to avoid a baby:

Many of you (hopefully) know that the most reliable form of contraception is pairing a form of birth control (like an oral contraceptive or IUD) with barrier protection (condoms or a diaphragm) as neither of these are 100% effective against everything. However, this article is going cover what to do when these fail. I’ve sat down with UC Alumni, Megan Jackson from Priceline Pharmacy Gungahlin to give us an idea of what to expect when trying to access the morning after pill, how it works and what will go on ~down there~ when you use it.

If you’ve missed a pill, had a condom break or just haven’t used contraception for whatever reason, and want to avoid pregnancy your best chance is to go immediately into a pharmacy to access the morning after pill. Megan tells us that the morning after pill works by preventing the egg from leaving the ovary, delaying ovulation. It’s basically a one-time version of the oral contraceptive pill and it’s highly effective when taken quickly.

As the morning after pill is an over the counter medication, you don’t need to see a doctor for a prescription. Because of this, many women and their partners are often quite confronted to find they have to fill in a questionnaire. Many pharmacies provide a counselling room for privacy. It’s important to understand that you should never feel ashamed of yourself for seeking assistance with a sexual health issue, just as you wouldn’t for a general health issue. The questionnaire requires you to fill out your name and contact details, and although Megan assures us that at most pharmacies these are shredded, some may keep them on file in case you have an adverse reaction.

There are questions about your regular period, your general health, usual contraception methods and finally why you need emergency contraception. Megan breaks down the questionnaire’s three most important sections to: 1) your last period, 2) medications and health conditions, and 3) the time since the unprotected sex.

“Whilst they’re uncommon medications, different types of HIV and Epilepsy medications interact with the Morning After Pill, if you have malabsorption issues it’s important for us to note. We may have to give you two doses. If you haven’t had your period in three months either, there’s a chance you’re already pregnant.”

The longer it’s been since you’ve had unprotected sex affects its effectiveness as well. While Megan says that she would never refuse someone emergency contraception, it’s effectiveness basically caps at five days.

“In the first twenty-four hours it’s about 95% effective, twenty-four to forty-eight hours it’s 85% and between forty-eight and seventy-two hours it’s 58% effective.”

When it comes down to selecting the reason why you require emergency contraception there’s a box marked ‘sexual assault’. If you have been sexually assaulted, this doesn’t change the way the pharmacist dispenses the morning after pill. It just gives them a chance to refer you to other services such as sexual health clinics, the Emergency Department or a GP if you would like to have a rape kit administered. It means they are able to show you resources if you would like to get help.

In fact, it’s very hard to be refused the morning after pill with nearly every chemist stocking multiple brands of it. Some pharmacists may refuse to serve you for religious beliefs, but are bound by a duty of care to either get someone else in the store to serve you, or call another close store and direct you there. They’re also bound by a code of ethics not to degrade or belittle you for requesting emergency contraception.

“It’s in the Pharmacies Professional’s Standards and Code of Ethics, we have to provide timely advice and information. It should be done in a polite and discreet way. It’s part of their job, it’s what they’re trained to do. Make a complaint to the store manager, it’s unacceptable.”

The morning after pill will range between $20-$40 depending on if the pharmacy stocks a generic or name brand and is best to take straight away. Possible side effects, according to Megan, include; nausea, headaches, spotting, and breast tenderness.

“You’ve basically just put a hormone into your system so the imbalance will make you feel a little PMS-y.”

Your nausea should wear off in three to twenty-four hours, but if you do vomit in the first two hours or so come back into the pharmacy because there’s a chance it wasn’t absorbed properly. The breast tenderness won’t come in for a few days after, but should also be gone in about three days. Although these are the bulk of the side effects, everyone reacts differently and it’s possible for some women to experience bad cramping or heavy bleeding during their next period. It’s also likely to delay your period for up to a week, because of the change in ovulation.

However, if your period is more than a week late or is much lighter than usual it would be best to follow up with a pregnancy test and/or doctors visit.

When it comes to using it again (and again, and again) there’s no real reason why you can’t. Megan says that the morning after pill does not have any effect on current, unknown pregnancies (eg birth defects) and is safe to use while breastfeeding. Its effectiveness is just much lower than other forms of contraception. The oral contraceptive pill for example, is 99% effective when taken properly and is substantially cheaper than taking the morning after pill regularly.

For more information, talk to your GP.


By: Imogen Hughes – A version of this article has been previously published at Curieux, The University of Canberra Student Magazine




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