What You Should Know About Plan B

Women's Health | | Natasha Weiss
5 min read

You wake up in the morning after a night of romping around in the sac with a fling, a one-night stand, or even an old lover, and you realize – “Oh s$#*!”. You forgot to use a condom.

Or maybe the condom broke, or you missed your birth control, or you just got caught up in the heat of the moment. 

Most of us have been there, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

Things happen, and luckily for us, there are modern advancements that can help prevent unwanted pregnancy. Cue the morning after pill. 

Not The Abortion Pill

First thing we have to clarify is that Plan B is not an abortion pill. While there are a series of medications or “abortion pills” that people can take typically up to ten weeks pregnant, that is not what Plan B is for.

Plan B is intended to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex before implantation occurs.

What exactly does that mean?

What is Plan B?

Plan B, a brand of the “Morning After Pill”, is a type of emergency contraception that is designed to be used after unprotected penis-in-vagina sex.

Remember that Plan B shouldn’t be used on a regular basis as birth control, only in emergencies.

Plan B can reduce the chance of pregnancy by 75 to 89% if taken within 72 hours of sexual contact. While that window gives you a little bit of cushion time, the sooner you take Plan B, the more effective it is. It still may work up to five days after unprotected sex, but the longer you wait, the less effective it becomes. 

How Does Plan B Work?

Plan B works by using an synthetic hormone called levonorgestrel, that mimics progesterone. This helps the body to delay ovulation by preventing it from releasing an egg. Without ovulation, no fertilization, or pregnancy, can occur. 

Levonorgestrel is the same hormone that can be found in many forms of hormonal birth control, but at a much higher dose in Plan B. Unlike long term birth control however, the hormone leaves the body quickly after taking the morning after pill. 

Does Plan B Have Side Effects?

If you’ve ever taken hormonal birth control, you may have experienced some of the side effects that synthetic hormones can cause. 

While typically the side effects of Plan B are mild, they can include:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Breast tenderness
  • Abdominal cramps and pain

You can take anti-nausea medication and painkillers to help with any side effects. No interactions have been found between ibuprofen and Plan B.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you vomit within two hours of taking the pill to see if a second dose is necessary.

Should Anyone Avoid Plan B?

While the jury is still out on this one, researchers found that Plan B may be less effective for people who weigh more than 155 pounds.

Plan B may have side effects with certain medications and supplements including: 

  • The antifungal medication griseofulvin
  • The herb St. John’s wort
  • Carbamazepine, phenobarbital, and primidone, which are seizure medications
  • Some HIV medications
  • Certain antibiotics like rifampin

How Often Can You Take Plan B?

Technically there are no limits on how many times you can take Plan B, although it’s not advised to take it more than once per menstrual cycle.

That being said, Plan B is not intended to be used on a regular basis, as it’s for emergencies.

If you are taking the morning after pill often, you may want to consider going on another form of contraception or utilizing barrier methods like a condom.

How Do I Know if Plan B Has Worked?

Like we mentioned, Plan B is not 100% effective, and it’s effectiveness goes down the longer you wait to take it.

You’ll know that taking Plan B worked if you get your period. 

Your period may be a bit delayed, but if it’s later than one week, you should take a pregnancy test. 

Plan B can cause slight changes to your menstrual cycle. The morning after pill could cause your period to be heavier or lighter than normal, and it may come early or late. You may also experience spotting between your periods.

How Do You Get Plan B?

Plan B can be found at most pharmacies and drugstores, and can be bought without a prescription. People of any age and gender can obtain the morning after pill. 

Morning after pills and other forms of emergency contraception can also be found at most family planning clinics and local health departments. 

The price varies, and it may or may not be covered by insurance. Emergency contraception can typically be found low cost or for free at reproductive health and family planning clinics.

What if Plan B Doesn’t Work?

Unfortunately Plan B doesn’t always work. If you do become pregnant, even after taking Plan B, know that it’s not your fault. 

If pregnant, you’ll need to consider your options. Because you’ll be watching for your period, you’ll most likely be able to detect pregnancy very early on, which gives you more options in terms of abortion, if that’s what you plan to do. 

Does it Protect Against STIs?

Plan B does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections that can be transferred during unprotected sex.

Be sure to still get tested for STIs in the following weeks after a sexual encounter. Most STIs are easily treatable if detected soon after transmission. 

Things to Remember About Plan B

If you find yourself in a situation where you have to take Plan B, know that you did nothing wrong, and that you are now taking proactive steps to do what you need to do for your body and life. 

When you take it, try to give yourself the day to relax if possible, as you may not feel your best. 

There are other forms of emergency contraception including similar pills to Plan B, as well as emergency insertion of the copper IUD, which can be used up to five days after unprotected sex.

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