Emergency Contraception (EC)

What is EC and how does it work?

Emergency Contraception (EC), also known as the morning after pill, is birth control that a woman can take after she has unprotected sex in order to prevent pregnancy. EC prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation, fertilization, or, possibly, implantation. The hormones in EC temporarily disrupt hormone production in the ovaries. This will delay ovulation if it has not already occurred and will make the uterine lining unsuitable for implantation of an egg if fertilization has occurred.

EC will not affect an existing pregnancy and it will not cause an abortion. EC is not the same as RU-486 (Mifepristone), the early option pill that is given to induce a medical abortion after a woman is already pregnant.

EC is most commonly available as a progestin-only medication known as "Plan B One Step". "Plan B One Step" packages include 1 pill which should be taken right away.

EC works best when the first dose is taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex, and have shown to be effective when taken up to 120 hours. The effectiveness of EC increases the sooner it is taken. If it has been more than 120 hours since you've had unprotected sex, call your medical provider for advice. Brown students can call Health Services at 401-863-1330.

Why would I want to use EC?

EC can help to prevent pregnancy after sex in circumstances such as these::

  • The condom broke or slipped off
  • You forgot to take birth control pills in your current cycle
  • Your diaphragm or cervical cap slipped out of place
  • Your partner didn't pull out in time or used the withdrawal method
  • You weren't using any birth control
  • You were forced to have unprotected vaginal sex
  • You are unsure or unable to remember if protection was used

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How effective is EC in preventing pregnancy?

There are two types of EC: the combined EC and the progestin-only EC. Combined EC, such as "Preven," has a combination of two hormones: progestin and estrogen -- the same hormones that are found in birth control pills. The combined hormone EC pills have a 75% effectiveness rate.

The second type of EC is a progestin-only medication, such as "Plan B". The only hormone in these pills is progestin. Because of this, you will have a lower chance of experiencing side effects. Progestin-only EC also has a higher effectiveness rate than the combination pills at 89%. Plan B is the most commonly available brand of EC.

EC is effective if aken within 120 hours of unprotected sex. The sooner you take the pills the better your chance of preventing pregnancy.

Will I experience any side effects after taking EC?

The most common side effect of the combined EC (Preven) is nausea. Vomiting is a less common side effect. If you vomit within the first two hours of taking this EC, the dose will have to be repeated. If you are particularly prone to nausea, speak with your medical provider and they may give you extra pills and an anti-nausea medication, like Dramamine, along with the EC dose in order to prevent this side effect. Taking EC with food sometimes helps as well.

Nausea and vomiting are much less common side effects with progestin-only EC (Plan B).

Besides nausea and vomiting, you may also experience breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, fluid retention, dizziness, and/or headaches. These side effects subside within a day or two after taking the pills.

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When will my next period occur?

Taking EC may alter the timing of the your next period. Menstrual bleeding may begin a few days earlier or a few days later than would have been expected. If menstrual bleeding does not begin within 3 weeks after taking EC, contact your medical provider to discuss pregnancy testing or alternative reasons for not beginning a period.

What happens if I use EC more than once?

It is not dangerous to take EC repeatedly. However, we don't recommend that you use EC as a regular form of birth control because it is not as effective as using other contraceptive methods consistently. If you do not want to become pregnant, you should talk with your medical provider about a regular contraceptive method that would work for you. Brown students can make an appointment at Health Services by calling 401.963-3953.

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Where and how do I get EC?

If you are a Brown student, you can go directly to the Health Services Pharmacy to purchase EC for a cost of $30 (plus tax). (This is a discounted price as compared to drugstores and other locations where the cost will be closer to $50). No ID is required to purchase EC.

Resources off-campus
EC is available at local pharmacies, health care clinics or a hospital emergency department. The closest pharmacy to campus is the CVS on Wayland Square (481 Angell Street, 401.521-4340) and the nearest clinic is Planned Parenthood (111 Point Street, 401.421-9620).  You can also check online or in the Providence phone book for phone numbers and addresses of other local pharmacies or health care facilities.

If you are away from the Providence area, or if you want more information about EC:
You can get the name of the EC providers nearest you by calling the emergency contraception hotline: 1-800-NOT-2-LATE or looking them up on the website. You can also call 1-800-230-PLAN to find the Planned Parenthood Health Center nearest you, or look up the nearest clinic on their website. EC is also available at public health centers, private doctors, and hospital emergency rooms.

Can I get EC in advance?

Yes! If you are going on an extended trip or you are worried about your contraceptive method failing and you would like to have EC on hand just in case, you can purchase EC in advance.

Links you can use

For more information about EC, you can visit:

Planned Parenthood


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Disclaimer: BWell Health Promotion is part of Health Services at Brown University. Health Promotion maintains this site as a resource for Brown students. This site is not intended to replace consultation with your medical providers. No site can replace real conversation. Health Promotion offers no endorsement of and assumes no liability for the currency, accuracy, or availability of the information on the sites we link to or the care provided by the resources listed. Health Services staff are available to treat and give medical advice to Brown University students only. If you are not a Brown student, but are in need of medical assistance please call your own health care provider or in case of an emergency, dial 911. Please contact us if you have comments, questions or suggestions.