If you think you might be pregnant — and you don’t want to be — it can be scary. But remember, whatever happens, you aren’t alone and you have options.

We’re here to help you figure out what to do next.

If you forgot to use contraception, try not to be too hard on yourself. You’re not the first person that’s happened to.

If you did use contraception and it failed, know that it happens more often than you might expect.

The important thing is to act quickly if you want to prevent pregnancy.

Take emergency contraception (EC)

There are two main types: the hormonal EC pill (“morning-after” pill) and the copper intrauterine device (IUD).

The EC pill delivers a high dose of hormones to delay ovulation or prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in your uterus.

EC pills are up to 95 percent effective when used within 5 days of unprotected sex.

Some pills are available over the counter (OTC), but others need a prescription.

The copper IUD (Paragard) is more effective than all EC pills, but it has to be prescribed and inserted by a doctor.

Paragard works by releasing copper into the uterus and fallopian tube. This causes an inflammatory reaction that’s toxic to sperm and eggs.

It’s 99 percent effective when inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex.

Figure out how likely it is that you’re pregnant

You can only get pregnant during ovulation, a narrow window of 5 to 6 days per month.

If you have a 28-day menstrual cycle, ovulation happens around day 14.

Your risk of pregnancy is highest in the 4 to 5 days leading up to ovulation, on the day of ovulation, and the day after ovulation.

Although an egg only lives for about 24 hours after ovulation, sperm can live up to five days inside the body.

Talk to someone you trust

This can be a stressful time, and there’s no need to go through it alone. That’s why we recommend talking to a partner, friend, or other trusted figure.

They can support you through this process and listen to your concerns. They can even go with you to get EC or take a pregnancy test.

Take an OTC pregnancy test

EC can make your next period come sooner or later than normal. Most people will get their period within a week of when they expect it.

If you don’t get your period within that week, take a home pregnancy test.

A late or missed period doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant. A number of other factors — including your stress level — may be to blame.

The following steps can help you narrow down the underlying cause.

Check your menstrual cycle

Lots of people have irregular menstrual cycles. Some have cycles as short as 21 days or as long as 35.

If you aren’t sure where your cycle falls, grab a calendar and cross-check the dates of your last several periods.

This should help you determine whether your period is truly late.

Be on the lookout for early pregnancy symptoms

A missed period isn’t always the first sign of pregnancy. Some people may experience:

  • morning sickness
  • smell sensitivity
  • food cravings
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • tender and swollen breasts
  • increased urination
  • constipation

Take an OTC pregnancy test

Avoid taking a home pregnancy test before the first day of your missed period.

You likely won’t have enough human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) — the pregnancy hormone — built up in your system for the test to detect.

You’ll get the most accurate result if you wait until one week after your expected period.

If your test comes back positive, take another test in a day or two.

Although home pregnancy tests from reputable brands are reliable, it’s still possible to get a false-positive.

Schedule an appointment to confirm the results

Your healthcare provider will confirm your pregnancy with a blood test, an ultrasound, or both.

If you’re pregnant, learn about your options

You have several options, and all are valid:

  • You can terminate the pregnancy. It’s legal to get an abortion in the United States during your first and second trimesters in most states, though restrictions vary from state to state. Doctors, abortion clinics, and Planned Parenthood centers can all provide safe abortions.
  • You can put the baby up for adoption. Adoptions can be done through a public or private adoption agency. A social worker or adoption lawyer can help you find a reputable adoption agency or you can do a search with an organization such as the National Council for Adoption.
  • You can keep the baby. Some research suggests that 45 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t originally want to become pregnant. That doesn’t mean you won’t be a good parent, if that’s what you decide.

Talk to your provider about your next steps

When it comes to next steps, there is no “right” decision. Only you can know what is right for you.

Your healthcare provider is a resource, though. They can help you plan your next steps — whether or not you decide to continue with the pregnancy.

If you decide you want an abortion and your doctor doesn’t perform the procedure, they may be able to refer you to someone who does.

The National Abortion Federation can also help you find an abortion provider.

If you decide you want to keep the baby, your doctor can give you family planning advice and get you started with prenatal care.

Take another test in a few days or the following week, just to be sure you didn’t take the test too early.

Schedule an appointment

Your healthcare provider can confirm your results by doing a blood test. Blood tests can detect hCG earlier in a pregnancy than urine tests can.

Your provider can also help you determine why you haven’t had a period.

Review your contraceptive options

You don’t have to stick to your current birth control method if it isn’t working for you.

For example, if it’s difficult to remember to take a daily pill, you may have better luck with the patch, which is changed weekly.

If you’re having issues with the sponge or other OTC options, maybe a form of prescription birth control would be a better fit.

If needed, talk with a healthcare provider about next steps

Although you don’t have to talk to a doctor or other provider to get OTC birth control, they can be an invaluable resource.

Your healthcare provider is there to help you find the right birth control, prescription or otherwise, for your lifestyle.

They can help you make the switch and guide you on next steps.

There is no normal or right way to feel after a pregnancy scare. It’s totally fine to feel scared, sad, relieved, angry, or all of the above.

No matter how you feel, just remember that your feelings are valid — and no one should make you feel bad for having them.

There are ways to avoid another scare in the future.

Make sure you use a condom every time

Condoms do more than just reduce your risk for pregnancy, they also help protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Make sure you use the right size condom

Although inside condoms, which are inserted into the vagina, are one-size-fits-all, outside condoms, which are worn on the penis, aren’t.

Using an outside condom that’s too big or too small may slip off or break during sex, increasing your risk of pregnancy and STIs.

Make sure you know how to put the condom on correctly

Inside condoms are inserted similarly to tampons or menstrual cups, and outside condoms slide on like gloves.

If you need a refresher, check out our step-by-step guides for each type.

Don’t use a condom if the packaging is worn or damaged, or if it’s past its expiration date.

If you don’t want to use condoms to prevent pregnancy, use another contraceptive

Some other birth control options include:

  • cervical caps
  • diaphragm
  • oral pills
  • topical patches
  • vaginal rings
  • injections

If you don’t want children for three or more years, consider an implant or IUD

The IUD and the implant are two forms of long-acting reversible birth control (LARC).

This means that once a LARC is put into place, you’re protected against pregnancy without any additional work on your part.

IUDs and implants are over 99 percent effective, each lasting several years before needing to be replaced.

There are several things you can do to support someone who’s dealing with a pregnancy scare:

  • Listen to their concerns. Hear their fears and feelings. Try not to interrupt — even if you don’t necessarily understand or agree.
  • Remain calm. If you panic, you won’t help them and you might shut down the conversation.
  • Allow them to lead the conversation, but make it clear that you support them in whatever they decide. Regardless of your relationship to them, they’re the one who would be most directly affected by a pregnancy. It’s important to remember that whatever steps they decide to take are up to them and them alone.
  • Help them purchase and take the test, if that’s something they want. Even though there’s nothing to be ashamed of, some people find it embarrassing to buy a pregnancy test alone. Offer to go for or with them. Let them know that you can be there while they take the test.
  • Go with them to any appointments, if that’s something they want. This could mean going to the doctor to confirm a pregnancy or meeting with a healthcare provider to get advice on next steps.

A pregnancy scare can be a lot to deal with, but try to remember that you aren’t stuck. You always have options, and there are people and resources to help you through this process.


Simone M. Scully is a writer who loves writing about all things health and science. Find Simone on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.