Emergency Contraception

What is EC and how does it work?

Emergency Contraception (EC), sometimes referred to as the morning after pill, is birth control that can be used after unprotected sex in order to prevent pregnancy. EC comes in two forms: pill (ella and other brands like Plan B) and the ParaGard, Mirena and Liletta IUDs. EC prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation, fertilization, or, possibly, implantation. EC is not the same as RU-486 (Mifepristone), the early option pill that is given to induce a medical abortion after a person is already pregnant.

Why would I want to use EC?

EC can help to prevent pregnancy after sex in circumstances such as these::

  • The condom broke or slipped off

  • You forgot to take birth control pills in your current cycle

  • Your diaphragm or cervical cap slipped out of place

  • Your partner didn't pull out in time or used the withdrawal method

  • You weren't using any birth control

  • You were forced to have unprotected vaginal sex

  • You are unsure or unable to remember if protection was used 

What are the different types of EC and how effective are they in preventing pregnancy?

There are two forms of EC: the EC pill and ParaGard IUD.

The most common for of the EC pill are pills with a hormonal medicine called levonorgestrel. The brand names for this type of pill include: Plan B One Step, Take Action, MyWay, AfterPill, among others. This form of EC can reduce your chance of getting pregnant by 75-89% when taken within 3 days of unprotected sex. These EC packages include 1 pill which should be taken right away. These EC pills can be obtained over-the-counter and a prescription is not required.  It is important to note that if you are over 165 lbs, this form of EC may be less effective and you may want to use ella or the ParaGard IUD instead.

Another form of an emergency contraceptive is a pill with the brand name “ella.” ella is the most effective type of morning-after pill but requires a prescription from a medical provider. ella reduces the chances of getting pregnant by 85% if taken within 5 days of unprotected sex. ella is just as effective when taken on day 5 as it is on day 1. ella is less effective if you are over 195 lbs, and you may want to consider using a ParaGard IUD as EC.

The most effective form of EC are the ParaGard, Mirena and Liletta IUDs, which are more than 99% effective regardless of body weight when used within 5 days of unprotected sex. IUDs is placed in the uterus by a medical provider and can be used for ongoing contraception. Call to make an appointment with your medical provider as soon as you realize you need this form of EC, as it may be hard to get an appointment. For more information about IUDs, click here. 

Will I experience any side effects after taking EC?

  • The pill form of EC is very safe and side effects are not common. It is normal for your next period to be different in terms of start date, duration, and heaviness. Other symptoms may include an upset, stomach, lightheadedness or dizziness, or tender breasts. These symptoms should subside within two days of taking EC.  If you vomit within the first two hours of taking EC, the dose will have to be repeated. If you are particularly prone to nausea, speak with your medical provider and they may give you extra pills and an anti-nausea medication, like Dramamine, along with the EC dose in order to prevent this side effect. Taking EC with food sometimes helps as well.

  • The ParaGard IUD is also a very safe option for EC. Serious problems with IUDs are rare and the ParaGard IUD one of the most widely used types of long-acting reversible contraceptives. Some side effects can include mild to moderate pain when IUD is inserted, cramping following IUD insertion, spotting between periods, and heavier periods. Generally, most of these symptoms subside in 3-6 months or less. Over the counter pain medication can help with cramping. For more information about IUD side effects, click here. 

When will my next period occur?

Taking an EC pill may alter the timing of the your next period. Menstrual bleeding may begin a few days earlier or a few days later than would have been expected. If menstrual bleeding does not begin within 3 weeks after taking EC, contact your medical provider to discuss pregnancy testing or alternative reasons for not beginning a period.

What happens if I use EC more than once?

  • It is not dangerous to take the EC pill repeatedly. However, we don't recommend that you use EC pills as a regular form of birth control because it is not as effective as using other contraceptive methods consistently. If you do not want to become pregnant, you should talk with your medical provider about a regular contraceptive method that would work for you. Brown students can make an appointment at Health Services by calling 401.863-3953.

  • If you are using the ParaGard IUD as EC, it prevents pregnancy for up to 12 years following insertion. Once placed in you uterus by a medical provider, other forms of EC will not be necessary to prevent pregnancy. Brown students can make an appointment at Health Services by calling 401.863-3953. 

Where and how do I get EC?

If you are a Brown student, you can go directly to the Health Services Pharmacy to pick up EC for $0 (no out of pocket cost). You will just need to show your Brown student ID in order to receive the EC without cost. 

EC in the form of the pill "ella" is also available by prescription through Health Services. You can schedule an appointment with a provider by calling 401.863-3953.

Health Services now provides ParaGard IUD insertion. You can schedule an appointment with a provider by calling 401.863-3953. Be sure to mention that you need an expedited appointment for emergency contraception purposes.

If you have Brown's student health insurance (SHIP), you can probably get the cost of your EC covered in full. If you have other insurance, you may be able to get reimbursed. When you get your EC at Health Services, we will give you the information you need to submit to your insurance company for reimbursement.

Resources off-campus:
EC is available for purchase at local pharmacies, health care clinics or a hospital emergency department. The closest pharmacy to campus is the CVS on Wayland Square (481 Angell Street, Providence, 401.521-4340) and the nearest clinic is Planned Parenthood (175 Broad Street, Providence, 401.421-9620). You can also check online for phone numbers and addresses of other local pharmacies or health care facilities.

If you are away from the Providence area, or if you want more information about EC:
You can call 1-800-230-PLAN to find the Planned Parenthood Health Center nearest you, or look up the nearest clinic on their website. EC is also available at public health centers, private doctors, and hospital emergency rooms. 

Can I get EC in advance?

Yes! If you are going on an extended trip or you are worried about your contraceptive method failing and you would like to have EC on hand just in case, you can purchase EC in advance. Because it is available without a prescription, you can get EC at any time.

Related Links

For more information about EC, you can visit:

Planned Parenthood


  • 401.863-2794
    Health Promotion
  • 401.863-3953
    Health Services
  • 401.863-6000
    Sexual Assault Response Line
  • 401.863-4111
  • 401.863-3476
    Counseling & Psychological Services
  • 401.863-4111