The morning-after pill. One of the two main forms of emergency contraception taken after unprotected sex, the other being an IUD. If you’ve recently had unprotected sex and don’t want to risk pregnancy, the morning after pill is your best friend (and contrary to its name, you don’t just have to take it the morning after.) So you may be wondering, what are your options and is the morning after pill effective? Then this article is here to help you. 

Basic Information

There are two drugs that are known as the morning-after pill, Levonelle and EllaOne. The medical advice from the NHS differs depending on which drug. If it is Levonelle, you should take it a maximum of three days after. If it’s EllaOne, you should take it within 5 days of unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the more likely it will be able to prevent unwanted pregnancy. 

Is the morning after pill effective? All you need to know

It is very easy to get emergency contraception. It is available for free at these locations, even if you’re under 16:

  • Contraception and Sexual Health clinics
  • Some GP surgeries
  • Some young people’s clinics
  • Most NHS walk-in centres and minor injuries units
  • Most pharmacies
  • Some A&E departments

Alternatively, they are available for purchase from most pharmacies or organisations such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service for £25 to £35. 


Levonelle is thought to be able to prevent up to 95% of pregnancies if taken within 24 hours of the unprotected sex, 85% of pregnancies if taken between 25 to 48 hours after and 58% if taken 49 to 72 hours afterwards. So, the evidence shows that it will prevent an overwhelming number of pregnancies and the sooner you take it, the more effective it will be. 

Similarly, a 2017 review found that around 1 to 2% of women who take ellaOne become pregnant and 0.6 to 2.6% of women who take Levonelle become pregnant. While it isn’t an absolute guarantee that it will prevent unwanted pregnancy, these numbers are about as close as you’re going to get. 

Is the morning after pill effective? All you need to know

Side Effects:

Like with any drug, there are some side effects that you need to be aware of before taking the pill. There are no serious or long term side effects from the morning-after pill. However, if you vomit within 2 hours of taking Levonelle or 3 hours of taking ellaOne, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. 

Taking the morning-after pill may result in headaches, tummy pain or changes to your next period – it may be earlier, later or more painful than usual. You probably won’t get every side effect, but it is worth knowing what the expected side effects are, just in case. Additionally, the NHS website says that symptoms should only last a few days at most. So, if you’re still feeling these side effects after a few days, then you should seek medical attention. 

Alternative Forms of Contraception:

The other main form of emergency contraception is an intrauterine device, also known as an IUD or coil. It involves placing a small device made of copper into the uterus, with the copper stopping the egg from entering the womb or being fertilised. The IUD is considered the most effective form of emergency contraception, as less than 1% of women who use it become pregnant. While it is not as easy to access as the pill, if you are very worried about becoming pregnant, this may be the option for you. 

Is it effective? 

So, is the morning after pill effective? The answer appears to be yes. While it won’t be able to prevent every single pregnancy, the evidence shows that it is effective in the overwhelming number of cases that if you need it, you should almost certainly be protected. However, if you feel like you need to seek medical attention, then you should do it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.