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Plan B may be one of the most talked about forms of emergency contraception (EC). But it’s not the only type available.
Read on for more information on Plan B alternatives, including:
- how effective they are
- how much they cost
- where you can get them
There are plenty of other levonorgestrel pills, including Aftera and Next Choice.
However, they all work in the same way. So only two of the most popular (Take Action and AfterPill) have been mentioned above.
Emergency contraception is used to prevent pregnancy after sex without protection.
It’s most effective if used within a certain amount of time after sex —up to 5 days for some methods.
That’s because sperm can live in the body for a few days, waiting for an egg to be released. Emergency contraception stops or delays the process of ovulation.
But as so many factors can affect it, such as where you are in your menstrual cycle, it’s not 100 percent effective.
Still, it’s the best way to try to prevent pregnancy if you did not practice safer sex or the protection you used failed.
Typically, the phrase “unprotected sex” refers to penis-in-vagina intercourse without a condom. But here, we’re using it to refer to sex that took place without proper barrier or proper contraception.
That includes any sex that happened with a broken condom, expired condom, or other condom mishap — or with someone using an expired birth control method or not taking their birth control consistently.
Emergency contraception is designed for anyone who can become pregnant.
But you’d only use it if:
- You didn’t use protection like a condom or weren’t on any kind of birth control when you had vaginal sex.
- You forgot to take or use your birth control and then had vaginal sex.
- The condom broke after ejaculation occurred.
- A partner didn’t pull out before ejaculating.
As there are quite a few emergency contraception methods, it can be hard to know which one’s right for you.
There are three main things to think about. First, figure out how long ago you had unprotected sex.
For example, while “morning after” pills work better the quicker you take them, some can work for up to 5 days afterward.
Then consider the kind of access you need. Some types are available over the counter, while others require a prescription or even a medical appointment.
Some forms are also more expensive than others.
Finally, you’ll need to think about your body. Weight can affect how well some types of emergency contraception work.
And breast milk can be affected by one type —a pill called ella.
|Combined birth control pills
|What it is
|A pill containing ulipristal acetate
|A levonorgestrel pill
|A levonorgestrel pill
|A copper intrauterine device (IUD)
|Regular birth control
|How effective it is
|85% if taken within 5 days
|75 to 89% if taken within 3 days
|75 to 89% if taken within 3 days
|More than 99.9% if taken within 5 days
|56 to 86% effective if taken within 5 days
|$20 plus $5 shipping
|Up to $1,300
|$0 if you already have them (up to $50 a month if you don’t)
|How to get it
|Over the counter
- $ = under $25
- $$ = $25–$50
- $$$ = over $50
- Price: $$
- Pro: It’s the most effective morning after pill.
- Con: You’ll need a prescription.
ella isn’t like Plan B in that it doesn’t contain levonorgestrel.
Instead, it uses ulipristal acetate to stop the effects of a hormone called progesterone. In turn, this prevents or delays ovulation.
It can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex and is the most effective EC pill, reducing the chance of pregnancy by 85 percent, according to Planned Parenthood.
The major downside is that ella requires a prescription. You can get one online, but it’ll cost you more —usually around $90, including shipping.
But health insurance or Medicaid should cover the cost.
A couple of other things you need to consider are that ella may not work as well if you weigh 195 pounds or more.
And if you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need to pump and get rid of any breastmilk for 36 hours after taking the pill.
- Price: $$
- Pro: It’s available over the counter.
- Con: It’s not as effective as ella.
Take Action works in an identical way to Plan B.
That’s because it contains the same main ingredient —a synthetic version of progesterone called levonorgestrel that stops ovulation.
And the quicker you take one, the better.
The best part about EC pills like Take Action is that they’re available over the counter and don’t require a prescription. You should be able to find them in most pharmacies and drugstores.
Plus, as Take Action is a generic product, it’s cheaper than Plan B, usually costing about 20 percent less.
But it, and other levonorgestrel pills, also have a weight warning —efficacy may be affected if you weigh 155 pounds or more or have a BMI of 30 or higher.
- Price: $
- Pro: It’s often the cheapest EC pill.
- Con: It’s only available online.
AfterPill is another levonorgestrel pill that works in the same way and is just as effective as Plan B.
But it’s a little different from the rest as it’s a lot cheaper, costing just $20. Why? Because you can only buy AfterPill online.
There’s a downside to that though. While this EC pill is accessible to everyone with internet access, you do have to pre-order for it to arrive in time.
Shipping costs $5 and takes 5 to 7 days.
Just as with all the other levonorgestrel pills, you’ll need to be aware that weight of 155 pounds or a BMI of 30 can impact the pill’s effectiveness.
It’s also worth noting that all EC pills can come with side effects like nausea, fatigue, and headaches.
- Price: $$$
- Pro: It’s the most effective form of emergency contraception.
- Con: You’ll need to book a medical appointment.
And it’s just as effective if you have it inserted on day 5 after unprotected sex as it would be on day 1. Your weight has no bearing on this.
What’s more, you can keep it in for up to 10 years and use it as a regular form of birth control. This small plastic device contains copper, which makes it difficult for sperm to reach the egg.
A medical professional will need to insert the device, so you’ll need to find and make an appointment within 5 days.
Side effects can range from cramping to bleeding for the first few days, weeks, or months.
It’s also pretty expensive, but you may be able to get one free or at a heavily reduced price if you have insurance coverage through Medicaid or another insurance provider.
- Price: $$
- Pro: You may already have them at home.
- Con: It’s less effective than all the other types.
Some birth control pills —the combined type — can be used as EC. But the dosage differs, depending on the type of pill.
So it’s vital to speak with a doctor or other healthcare professional before choosing this method.
Usually, you’ll need to take two doses 12 hours apart, with the first dose taken within 5 days of unprotected sex.
It’s worth noting that this method is not as effective as the others and can come with more side effects due to the high levels of estrogen, according to research.
Emergency contraception, other than Paragard, is not designed to be used as regular birth control.
For starters, it’s not as effective and costs a lot more. So it’s a good idea to think about longer-lasting forms of protection, like the pill, patch, or shot. Alternatively, condoms are a hormone-free option.
Plus, thanks to the internet, it’s never been more convenient to get a birth control prescription.
What can I do if I can’t afford Plan B?
As it’s branded, Plan B is the most expensive levonorgestrel EC pill.
But there are plenty of other levonorgestrel options —the cheapest is usually AfterPill, which can be bought online for $20 plus $5 shipping.
If you have Medicaid or other health insurance, you may be able to get various types of EC for free.
Where can I get emergency contraceptives?
You can buy Plan B and any generic levonorgestrel pill over the counter at drugstores and pharmacies. They’re usually in the family planning aisle. But some stores may have them behind the counter.
Plus, they’re also available online.
Paragard and ella, however, will require a doctor’s appointment or prescription.
Do I need a prescription?
You do not need a prescription for Plan B or any of its levonorgestrel alternatives.
The only EC pill that does require a prescription is ella.
Are there age restrictions to buy Plan B?
There used to be, but not anymore.
Any person can buy Plan B or its alternatives without showing ID.
Plan B is not the only EC that exists. There are other pills and even a long-lasting IUD to consider.
So weigh up your options and decide what’s best for you, based on cost, accessibility, and effectiveness.
Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.