What is the morning after pill, does it have any side effects, what does it cost and where can I get it?

What is the morning after pill?

The morning after pill, also known as the emergency contraceptive pill, EC Pill or emergency pill is a form of emergency contraception that can be taken orally and as a last resort for when other contraception has failed or not been used at all.

Why would I need the morning after pill?

The morning after pill may help prevent pregnancy if you've recently had unprotected sex or you've experienced a problem with your normal contraceptive (e.g. due to sickness; a missed contraceptive pill; broken condom).

In these cases the morning after pill can be useful however you must take it as soon as possible after sexual intercourse — the earlier you take it the more effective it will be.

Please note, if you have further unprotected sexual intercourse after taking the morning after pill, you'll again be at risk of pregnancy — the morning after pill is not a substitute for regular forms of ongoing birth control / contraceptive measures.

Please also note that the morning after pill will not stop you catching sexually transmitted infections (STIs)!

How does the morning after pill work?

There are two types of morning after pill: Levonelle and ellaOne.
Both types work by delaying or preventing ovulation[1] (the release of an egg for potential fertlisation) but there are differences in how each is used.

Of the two types, it's thought that ellaOne is more effective[1].


Levonelle contains a chemical called levonorgestrel which is a man-made version of preogesterone. Progesterone is made naturally by the body and is involved in ovulation and in getting the uterus ready to take a fertilised egg.

When to take Levonelle — Levonelle must be taken during the three days (72 hours) following unprotected sexual intercourse but is most effective if you take it within 12 hours of having unprotected sex.[3]


The main ingredient in ellaOne is a chemical called ulipristal acetate which prevents / delays the release of an egg.

When to take ellaOne — ellaOne must be taken during the five days (120 hours) following unprotected sexual intercourse.

Taking the morning after pill isn't the same as having, and doesn't cause, an abortion

Are there any morning after pill side effects?

There are not thought to be any serious morning after pill side-effects however you may experience one or more of the following which are quite common:

  • abdominal aches
  • headaches
  • changes to your menstrual bleeding before your next period
  • nausea
  • tiredness

Additionally, you may experience some of the following however they're less common:

  • breast tenderness
  • dizziness
  • vomitting - if you're sick within 2 hours of taking Levonelle, or 3 hours of taking ellaOne, you should get advice from your doctor, nurse or pharmacist — if there's a chance your body has not absorbed the pill sufficiently you may need a repeat dose, or have an IUD (intrauterine device) fitted

How effective is the morning after pill?

A 2010 study showed that of 1,696 women taking the morning after pill within 72 hours of having had unprotected sexual intercourse, 37 became pregnant whilst 1,659 did not. Study results also noted that of 203 women taking the morning after pill within 72–120 hours of having had unprotected sexual intercourse, 3 became pregnant.

The study can't be considered conclusive though as it's hard to know how many women would've become pregnant had they not taken the morning after pill at all.[2]

There are more details available on the NHS website via the links at the bottom of this page.

Where can I get the morning after pill?

Where to get Levonelle in the UK

If you need to take the morning after pill in the UK you can get Levonelle free of charge from the following places:[3]

Where to get ellaOne in the UK

If you have a prescription from a GP you can get ellaOne from a pharmacy free of charge.

If you don't have a prescription ellaOne can be bought from some pharmacies.

How much is the morning after pill?

If you're buying over the counter, Levonelle will cost around £25 and ellaOne will cost around £35.

Can I buy the morning after pill online?

There are a number of online pharmacies now providing the morning after pill. Delivery options vary with some offering: same-day delivery for selected post-codes; next-day delivery; and and also “click & collect”.

Do I need a prescription from my GP to get the morning after pill online?

Each online pharmacy will require you to fill out a straight forward online questionairre before you can submit your order. A qualified doctor at each online pharmacy will then check the information you submitted and where required, if everything's acceptable, will issue your prescription as part of the order.

Some online pharmacies will charge for issuing a prescription so check the website details carefully .

Please note that the information regarding the online pharmacies above was correct to the best of our knowledge, according to the websites consulted at the time of writing. Pregnancy Choices Directory bears no responsibility for the services provided by online pharmacies. Please ensure you read the label when taking medicines — prescription or otherwise.

Is it safe to buy the morning after pill online?

Online pharmacies and doctors are regulated by bodies such as: General Pharmaceutical Council; General Medical Council; Care Quality Commission; and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Online pharmacies will often provide links to details of themselves held by these agencies.

Disclaimer: Pregnancy Choices Directory aims only to summarise the main points regarding the morning after pill — for advice relating to your own specific situation you should seek help from your GP, nurse, pharmacist or other qualified medical professional. Links to more information can be found in the Further Info section at the bottom of this page.

Morning after pill - further info

Watch a short video of Dr Hilary Jones explaining about the Morning After Pill .

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