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Health News of Saturday, 6 November 2021


Taking morning-after pill protects against pregnancy, not STIs - Experts

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

EMERGENCY contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, can prevent up to over 95% of pregnancies when taken within 5 days after intercourse but are more effective the sooner they are used after the act of intercourse.  It can be used following unprotected intercourse; concerns about possible contraceptive failure, incorrect use of contraceptives, and sexual assault if without contraception coverage.

But does taking the morning after pill stop future pregnancies? Will taking it more than once have a negative effect on the body? Are there side effects? The reality is using emergency contraception or the morning-after pill won’t affect a woman’s fertility and won’t stop her from getting pregnant in the future.

Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) prevent pregnancy by preventing or delaying ovulation and they do not induce an abortion. The copper-bearing IUD prevents fertilization by causing a chemical change in sperm and egg before they meet. Emergency contraception cannot interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo.

There are no restrictions for the medical eligibility of who can use ECPs. Although it doesn’t matter how many times it is taken, whether it is used several times within a short period of time or repeatedly for regular contraception such as pills and implants is important.

In such situations, Dr Olayinka Ogunbode, a consultant obstetric and gynaecologist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said that this could cause menstrual irregularity due to hormonal imbalance and consequently the change in the reproductive cycle can affect their fertility.

According to him, “But what we notice is that many ladies or couples use it for unprotected sex as regular contraception. This can make the menstrual cycle irregular. She will not know whether it is her safe period or not, she might not know exactly her fertile period and that is how it can cause infertility. We don’t recommend it.”

While there are no serious side effects to taking the morning after pill it may make the next period slightly irregular. It may arrive late or early and be lighter or heavier than normal. Apart from this, mild symptoms of headache, tummy pains, nausea and vomiting, and fatigue may be experienced, too. Howbeit, emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In 2011, information collected from 539 Nairobi and 483 Lagos respondents on repeated use of emergency contraceptive pills in the journal, International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, indicated that 17% in Lagos had ever used emergency contraceptive pills.

On average, these respondents had used the pills less than once per month, but greater use and acceptance were seen in Lagos.  Also, women who had sex at least once in a typical week were generally more likely than others to have used the pills 2–5 times in the last six months, rather than once or never, or to have used them six or more times.

Notably, the proportion of respondents who used the pills six or more times in the last six months was considerably higher in Lagos than in Nairobi (29% vs. 5%). Seventy-six per cent of respondents in Nairobi and 78% in Lagos felt the method was as effective as regular oral contraceptive pills, and the majority (55% in Nairobi and 59% in Lagos) agreed that women preferred using emergency pills to using condoms.

Technical Management Committee chairman of the Association for the Advancement of Family Planning (AAFP), Dr Ejike Orji assured that ECPs are safe and will not affect a woman’s chances of pregnancy if she so desires.

“It will not affect the chances of pregnancy if you take the ECPs for the purpose of it preventing you from being pregnant, it is not an anti infertility drug.  Yes, it will stop getting pregnant but certainly will not cause infertility.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also does not recommend using emergency contraception pills as a long term contraception option because overall a person would be exposing themselves to repeatedly higher levels of hormones than they would normally receive using regular combined hormonal birth control or progestin-only birth control.

Also, manufacturers of the morning after pill do not recommend taking an emergency contraceptive pill more than once in a cycle.