Plan B, often referred to as the morning-after pill, has been widely available in the United States since it was approved by the FDA in 1999. It’s an easy-to-use, safe, and often very affordable method of emergency contraception pill. If your regular birth control method fails or you’ve had unprotected sex, Plan B might be able to help prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
There are also few, if any, serious side effects associated with taking Plan B as emergency contraception.
These positives might lead you to wonder—just how often can you take Plan B? While there aren’t very many problems associated with using Plan B, you probably don’t want to rely on it as a regular form of contraception. This guide will walk you through what you need to know about Plan B and alternatives for more effective types of contraception.
Plan B as emergency contraception 101
First things first, what is the morning-after pill, also called Plan B? Plan B is a type of emergency contraception. This means it’s intended to help prevent pregnancy when taken after vaginal intercourse, not before it.
Plan B takes effect during the window between when you had sex and when pregnancy actually occurs. It uses levonorgestrel, or synthetic progesterone, to suppress ovulation. When you don’t ovulate, there isn’t an egg to fertilize.
When using the Plan B pill as emergency contraception, timing and your personal circumstances can alter its effectiveness. This is because:
If ovulation has already occurred before you take Plan B, it may not work.
Sperm can live inside your body for up to six days.
You must take Plan B within one to three days of having unprotected sex.
Plan B is less effective if you weigh more than 165 pounds.
It boils down to this—the sooner you take Plan B after unprotected sex, the more effective it is.
One advantage of Plan B is that you don’t need a prescription to obtain it, making it very easy to get when you need it quickly. In addition, finding the right dose of Plan B is simple, because it’s the same for everyone. You simply take the emergency contraceptive pill as directed by the instructions that come with the packaging.
How frequently can you use Plan B?
Now that you know how Plan B works, you might wonder—how often can I take the morning after pill? Say you used Plan B last month, and now you need to use it again. Or perhaps you find yourself needing a backup option only a week or several days after your most recent use. Can you safely take Plan B again?
In fact, studies have shown that it is safe to use Plan B as often as you need to without significant health risks. However, if you find yourself relying on Plan B often, it may be time to consider whether your normal contraception method no longer suits your needs—for reasons we’ll outline next.
Can you use Plan B as your regular contraception method?
As we mentioned above, there isn’t really a limit on how frequently you take Plan B, nor are there serious problems associated with taking it often. However, the main reason you may not want to take Plan B as your regular birth control is that it simply isn’t as reliable as other types of contraception. Plan B is meant to be an emergency contraceptive pill after unprotected sexual intercourse and used in addition to your regular birth control pill, as needed.
Other reasons to seek another form of primary birth control include:
Compared to Plan B, other forms of birth control may be less expensive.
You may experience more side effects with Plan B than you would with other contraception.
Other forms of birth control can be more convenient to use and easier to obtain.
What are the risks?
While it’s nice to know that Plan B can help in an emergency, you shouldn’t rely on it to be your everyday form of birth control. It’s not ideal to do so for several reasons, including:
Plan B is less effective than other contraceptives – Emergency contraceptives are intended for emergency use. This is because they aren’t quite as effective as some other types of contraception. Those who use Plan B as their regular form of birth control have about an 11% chance or higher of getting pregnant within one year.
Plan B can lead to menstrual irregularities – Some of the side effects of Plan B include spotting between periods, earlier periods, or later periods. With intended use, this usually only happens for the month after you take the pill. However, if you take Plan B regularly, your menstrual cycle might become difficult to track. This can make it harder to tell if you might be pregnant. Read our in-depth blog for more information on Plan B affecting your period.
Plan B can be pricey if used all of the time – Finally, while you might be able to get Plan B at a discounted cost, the price of purchasing it regularly is likely to be higher than the cost of a more typical form of contraception.
What are the side effects and how long do they last?
Plan B uses levonorgestrel to prevent pregnancy, just as many birth control pills do. However, when you’re using levonorgestrel as a long-term form of contraception, the side effects typically aren’t as significant. With Plan B, you may experience more side effects because you only use it when you need it, not continuously as you do with oral contraceptives.
Some of the mild side effects you might experience when using Plan B include:
Menstrual irregularities, such as bleeding between periods
Mild dizziness or lightheadedness
Nausea or stomach discomfort
What are the alternative options to Plan B?
As we’ve covered above, Plan B may be a less-than-ideal option for long-term birth control. To better protect yourself from an unwanted pregnancy, you can instead opt for a different form of contraception. The good news is that there are many other effective options for both emergency contraception and long-term birth control.
Some of the widely available options include:
If you’re concerned about Plan B’s effectiveness as emergency contraception, you have another option. Ulipristal acetate is sold as ella, an alternative morning-after pill. Ella can be taken up to five days after unprotected vaginal sex to prevent pregnancy.
One factor that differentiates Ella vs. Plan B, is that ella is just as effective on day five as it is on day one after sex. In addition, the ulipristal acetate in ella isn’t a hormone like the levonorgestrel in Plan B is. Instead, it’s a compound that binds to your hormone receptors to suppress ovulation.
Furthermore, ella can be more effective if you weigh more than 165 pounds. It retains effectiveness for those who weigh up to 195 pounds. However, one drawback of ella is that you do need a prescription to obtain it.
Another option that can be used as both long-term and emergency contraception is the IUD. Both copper and hormonal IUDs are available and offer the following benefits:
Copper – The copper IUD can prevent pregnancy if it’s inserted within five days of unprotected vaginal sex. Rather than hormones, it uses copper to repel sperm and prevent you from becoming pregnant. Copper IUDs can last for up to 12 years and are up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Hormonal – Some IUDs use hormones to prevent pregnancy. Similar to the copper IUD, the hormonal contraception version must also be inserted within five days of unprotected sex to be used as emergency contraception. Depending on the specific brand you use, hormonal IUDs can last between 3 to 9 years. These offer up to 99% effectiveness at preventing pregnancy.
When it comes to this type, it’s best to compare the IUD pros and cons to understand how this method works exactly.
Birth control patch
If an IUD isn’t an option for you, the birth control patch is an alternative form of regular birth control. This is a small patch that you wear on your skin and change once per week. Hormones in the patch are absorbed into your body, where they help prevent pregnancy.
As long as you remember to change your patch weekly, it is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Birth control implant
Another effective long-term option is the birth control implant. This is a tiny rod that releases hormones into your body. Once a healthcare provider implants it into your arm, it can work for up to five years.
This makes the implant a highly convenient option because you don’t have to remember to take a pill every day or change a patch weekly. The implant is up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Birth control ring
Next, the birth control ring can also provide lasting protection. The birth control ring is a small, flexible ring that you insert into your vagina. It releases hormones that prevent pregnancy. You leave the ring in for three weeks and then remove it for one week to allow for menstruation.
Depending on the type of ring you choose, it can last for:
When used perfectly, the birth control ring is about 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Barrier methods of contraception
Finally, barrier methods of contraception can be effective when used correctly. Some common barrier methods include:
Condoms (both male and female)
These methods are usually very easy to obtain. However, their effectiveness can vary from between 71% to 88%, depending on how reliably and correctly you use them.You can also compare the different types such as female vs. male condoms or condoms vs. a cervical cap to better determine which is the right fit for you.
Explore all of your contraception options with The Pill Club
Many people have used levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate to help prevent an unwanted pregnancy. These pills are typically safe and quite easy to use as often as you need emergency contraception.
However, when it comes to long-term contraception, there are many more effective options out there.
Instead of relying on emergency contraception for your birth control needs, let The Pill Club help you explore your options. We can guide you through telemedicine consultations. We then offer prescription services and more to help you take control of your reproductive health needs.
Sign up today to learn more and find contraception that works for you every day—not just in an emergency situation.
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