Here’s a not-so-fun scenario for you: The condom broke and you’re not on any type of birth control. Your move? Find your nearest Walgreens, CVS, or whateverrrrr pharmacy you love and pick up Plan B.
As with pretty much anything that has to do with the reproductive system there are 1) potential side effects to taking Plan B and 2) a host of truly bonkers misinformation out there (hi, it’s not an abortion—but more on that later). So it makes total sense that you’re reading this right now.
Before we get into it, let me quickly put your mind at ease: Plan B is a very effective, incredibly safe form of emergency contraception that stops a pregnancy from happening. Still, you might experience some unpleasant side effects. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Plan B?
Simply, Plan B is an over-the-counter (OTC) pill that contains a highly concentrated dose of hormones to block a pregnancy after unprotected P-in-V intercourse has occurred. Per Planned Parenthood, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, the morning-after pill can decrease your chance of getting pregnant by 79 to 89 percent.
“When taken correctly, Plan B solely prevents a pregnancy from ever occurring and cannot prevent or end a pregnancy that has already happened,” explains ob-gyn Tia Jackson-Bey, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York. It takes five to seven days for the sperm and egg to meet and Plan B is meant to be taken within 72 hours, aka before this meet-up happens.
One thing to note: Unfortunately Plan B may be less effective in people with a weight of 155 pounds or higher. “If you’re worried that Plan B may not work for you because of your weight consider reaching out to your ob-gyn and using an alternative form of emergency contraception, like the copper IUD,” suggests Dr. Jackson-Bey.
What happens when I take Plan B?
Again, Plan B is *not* an abortion pill, but it will work with your body to prevent a pregnancy from ever occurring. Here’s how it all goes down:
Plan B’s active ingredient is levonorgestrel, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone that’s found in many hormonal birth controls. The difference here, per Dr. Jackson-Bey, is that there’s a much higher dosage of levonorgestrel compared to regular contraception.
“This large, concentrated dose disrupts the body’s normal hormone patterns, which is why it’s so time-sensitive,” she explains. “This delays ovulation, preventing fertilization.” How? Well, if you’re not ovulating, there’s no egg hanging around the fallopian tubes for the sperm to meet up with. And per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, sperm can chill in the body for up to five days. So…I guess you could call this the only good form of ghosting? Is that a stretch?
On top of the ghosting, that the extra oomph of hormones also thickens your cervical mucus. The thicker the cervical mucus (yum!), the less likely it is for sperm to even reach the fallopian tubes, Dr. Jackson-Bey says.
And if you had unprotected P-in-V intercourse around the time you normally ovulate? “Don’t push the 72-hour rule, you should take Plan B as soon as you can,” explains Dr. Jackson-Bey.
What are the side effects of Plan B?
I’m so glad you asked! While Dr. Jackson-Bey stresses that they do vary from person to person, here are the general side effects you might deal with after taking Plan B:
- Changes in your menstrual cycle (like irregular bleeding or late periods)
- Gastrointestinal problems (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, etc.)
- Tender breasts
Yeah, you can thank the levonorgestrel for all of those fun things. If any of these symptoms look familiar to you, you’re correct. They’re suuuper similar to early pregnancy symptoms, which is the last thing you want to hear after taking emergency contraception. Luckily, when taken correctly, within 72 hours of intercourse, Plan B does its job. But if you’re still stressed about getting pregnant, pop by your provider for extra security. It can’t hurt, right?
How long do Plan B side effects actually last?
Again, it totally varies from person to person—but here’s what Dr. Jackson-Bey says that you might expect:
- Day 1: After taking the pill you might have some mild side effects. Some people experiencing nausea may end up vomiting within a couple of hours of taking the pill, it’s important to take another dose to make sure it’s effective.
- Days 2 to 3: You’ll continue to feel mild side effects like headache, fatigue, breast tenderness, etc.
- Days 4 to 5: At this point, most people are no longer feeling their side effects, but you may have some lingering breast tenderness or headaches.
- The next few weeks to one month: Menstrual changes are super common here. Depending on when you took the pill in your cycle, you may skip or period or have irregular spotting.
However, if you’re continuing to feel the same side effects after a week —or they’ve gotten worse and include things like severe abdominal pain on one side—pick up the phone and see your doctor.
Before you stress, Plan B will *not* eff up your menstrual cycle in any way. After about a month or so, it should return to its normal, crampy self.
How can I relieve Plan B side effects?
Yeah, if you’re feeling even remotely sh*tty, I get that you wanna find a quick fix. The most important thing Dr. Jackson-Bey suggests is to stay hydrated. (You have my permission to use this as an excuse to ball out on a cute new water bottle.) Meanwhile, any headaches or breast tenderness can be treated with an OTC painkiller like Advil or Tylenol.
Otherwise, just rest up! Feeling fatigued? Acknowledge that you’re feeling off for a reason and curl up with a good Netflix show. Remember that this is totally temporary and you *will* be back to normal soon.
The bottom line:
Plan B is a perfectly safe and easily accessible pill to take when you’re in need of emergency contraception. While you might feel a few side effects, overall you’ll probably find them to be super mild and manageable. Still, if you’re nervous that the emergency contraception didn’t work for whatever reason or your side effects are lasting longer than a handful of days, make an appointment to go see your provider.
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