What Is The Morning After Pill? How Does It Affect Reproduction?

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There are many ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies by using condoms, oral birth control, injected contraceptives, and more. Now it almost seems impossible to get pregnant, if not wanted. However, like in many situations there are always ifs' and buts', sometimes unplanned unprotected sex or failure of contraceptive can lead to unwanted pregnancies. The morning-after pill is ideal for situations like these. Though, it is an accurate way of preventing pregnancy it is not recommended to take pill on a daily basis as a birth control, only in times of emergencies. That is why it is also known as emergency contraceptives.

      The U.S. FDA, on Aug. 24, 2006, approved for emergency contraception to be sold over the counter to women of ages 18 and over (Baird, 2009). The pill is also known as levonorgestrel it generic name and as Plan B. The morning-after pill is a form of emergency birth control used to prevent women from becoming pregnant after unprotected sex. They are generally considered safe with some unusual side affects. The pill is designed to be taken within 72 hours after intercourse, previously with a second dose taken 12 hours later. But recently “subsequent studies have confirmed these original findings and demonstrated that a single dose is as effective as two divided doses at a 12-h interval” (Baird, 2009). Plan B One-Step works with only one dose. The earlier the pill is taken the better, side effects may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, fatigue, headaches and menstrual changes.

      The active ingredients in morning-after pills are similar to those in birth control pills, except it is tripled in the doses of hormones. Some morning-after pills contain only one hormone, levonorgestrel and others include two, progestin and estrogen. Progestin is suppose to stop the sperm from reaching the egg, and keep the fertilized egg from sticking to the uterus' wall. While estrogen stops the ovaries from releasing eggs that can be fertilized by sperm. The exact process that the hormones go through is still unknown but its results are very accurate (Baird, 2009). All of these hormones have special abilities, but in the end their purpose it to prevent the pregnancy.

      Unlike Mifepristone (Mifeprex), the so-called French abortion pill, emergency contraceptive pills such as Plan B prevent pregnancy. The abortion pill ends pregnancy, one in which the fertilized egg has already attached to the uterine wall and has begun to develop (Pruitt and Mullen, 2005). Many have confused these two pills, but it has now been cleared up

      The reproductive system of females can very complicated, including the menstrual cycle which involves several special hormones and is a major part of the beginning of a pregnancy. After a woman is done menstruating, the pituitary gland begins its monthly cycle by producing follicle stimulating hormone, this hormone informs the ovaries that it is time to prepare a follicle for ovulation. Once the follicle develops it begins releasing estrogen, which causes the uterine lining to become thicker so that it is ready to accept a fertilized egg. Right before ovulation, the ovaries produce progesterone and continue the process for about two weeks. When the level of estrogen is high enough, the pituitary gland lets luteinizing hormone out, which lets the follicle know to release an egg into the fallopian tube. Sperm can fertilize this newly released egg during a 24-hour window (Feisullin and Westhoff, 2010).

      If conditions are right and the sperm gets to the egg on time, the fertilized egg inserts itself into the thickened uterine lining and the woman becomes pregnant. If something prevents the attachment of the egg or it does not fertilized, the woman does not get pregnant and continues her cycle for about two weeks after ovulation and gets her period. Then the cycle repeats. Though there is only a 24-hour time span during which an egg can be fertilized, sperm can live for three to five days inside a woman's body (Prine, 2007). This means that there is still a chance to get pregnant if a woman has unprotected sex three days before to ovulation.

      Human conception hardly ever occurs immediately after intercourse unless the woman is ovulating. Instead, it occurs as long as several days after ovulation. During the time between intercourse and conception, the sperm continues to travel through the fallopian tube until a new egg appears. The pill lowers the risk of pregnancy in one of three ways. It could kill all of the sperm after ejaculation. It could prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus and finally could either prevent or delay the release of the egg.

      So far the pill known that it has prevented 50-80 percent of pregnancies that would have otherwise been a result of unprotected sex and it prevent pregnancies by 89 percent (Baird, 2009). So it is still recommended to be on previous protection before sex and only use the pill in emergencies. A new morning after pill has recently attracted many people because it can be taken up to five days after unprotected intercourse. It has raised much attention and many believe it is a huge advancement and some have concerns.

Work(s) Cited

  1. Baird, David T. “Emergency contraception: how does it work?.” Reproductive Biomedicine Online 18 Suppl 1. (2009): 32-36. MEDLINE with Full Text. EBSCO.
  2. Sarah Cox, Emergency Contraception, Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health, Volume 51, Issue 6, Special Continuing Education Issue - Topics in Gynecology and Reproductive Health, November-December 2006, Pages 519-520.
  3. Sandi L. Pruitt, Patricia Dolan Mullen, Contraception or abortion? Inaccurate descriptions of emergency contraception in newspaper articles, 1992-2002, Contraception, Volume 71, Issue 1, January 2005, Pages 14-21.
  4. Linda Prine, Emergency Contraception, Myths and Facts, Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, Volume 34, Issue 1, Contraception, March 2007, Pages 127-136.
  5. Karen Feisullin, Carolyn Westhoff, Contraception, In: Marianne J. Legato, MD, Editor(s), Principles of Gender-Specific Medicine (Second Edition), Academic Press, San Diego, 2010, Pages 357-365.