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Morning-after pill myths debunked

by Dr. Margo Harrison
Julie Medical Advisor
Morning After Pill

What’s true & what’s not: morning-after pill myths

There’s a lot of information, and misinformation, out there about emergency contraception (EC) and the morning-after pill, which can make it very difficult to find answers. With the help of Dr. Tessa Commers, we’re breaking down some of the most common myths about the morning-after pill so you can be armed with the information needed to make the best decision for you.

The morning-after pill is not the abortion pill: TRUE

Some people confuse the morning-after pill, like Julie (levonorgestrel) tablet 1.5 mg, and the abortion pill, but they’re actually very different medications. Julie is taken after unprotected sex to stop a pregnancy from starting, while the abortion pill is taken after a pregnancy has already begun. Julie, aka the morning-after pill, is made up of levonorgestrel, a hormone that can stop ovulation from occurring and interfere with fertilization (joining of the sperm and egg). The abortion pill, on the other hand, is actually two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol, which stops an already established pregnancy.

The morning-after pill can harm a fetus: FALSE

The morning-after pill works by stopping ovulation and may inhibit sperm function. Both of these processes happen before a pregnancy is conceived, which is why Julie is able to prevent a pregnancy before it starts. Julie cannot end a pregnancy that has already started and cannot harm a fetus. In a PubMed study that followed children whose mothers had taken levonorgestrel, there were “no effects on the physical growth, mental development, or birth defects in children born from pregnancies in which EC failed.”

Taking multiple birth control pills equals the morning-after pill: FALSE

Heard of the Yuzpe method? It involves taking multiple birth control pills as a form of emergency contraception after unprotected sex. A study showed that this method was able to reduce pregnancies by 70% and 77% (using two different methodologies) when taken as directed. The Yuzpe method is less preferred than the morning-after pill, like Julie, because it has more side effects and is less effective (the morning-after pill is 89% effective). This method is the least effective with the most side effects so it makes more sense to buy the morning-after pill or ask your provider about other methods of emergency contraception.

The morning-after pill doesn’t work if your BMI is over 25: FALSE

Some studies have shown decreased effectiveness of the morning-after pill in people who weigh over 165 pounds or have a BMI over 25, but the science is limited and more research needs to be done. One study showed that the risk of pregnancy for women with a BMI over 30 who took levonorgestrel was 2%, compared to 1.2% for the entire group, which included people with lower and higher BMIs. So while effectiveness decreases as BMI increases, the morning-after pill can still be safe and effective regardless of your BMI.

Alcohol makes the morning-after pill less effective: FALSE

There are no known interactions between the morning-after pill and alcohol. So if you want a drink before or after taking Julie, feel free.

Julie is FDA-approved and legal in all 50 states. You can buy it online or at a Walmart near you.

You can take the morning-after pill up to 3 days after unprotected sex: TRUE

The sooner you take it, the better it works. Levonorgestrel, the main ingredient in Julie and other morning-after pills, is 89% effective when taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex, but it can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

Dr. Cordelia Nwankwo shares more facts you should know before taking the morning-after pill.

The morning-after pill affects your fertility: FALSE

The morning-after pill can temporarily prevent a pregnancy from occurring but has no effect on your ability to get pregnant in the future, no matter how many times you take it.

The morning-after pill protects you from pregnancy for a few days: FALSE

Morning-after pills like Julie temporarily stop ovulation and may prevent sperm from functioning properly. But it only protects you from the sexual encounter you just had, not future ones. If you have unprotected sex again, there’s a new chance for sperm to fertilize an egg, which is a new opportunity for a pregnancy to develop. In that case, you’d need to take another dose of Julie.

You need to be 18 years old to buy the morning-after pill: FALSE

Anyone can buy the morning-after pill, like Julie, online or at Walmart near you without an ID, credit card, or parent.

The morning-after pill has side effects: TRUE

Like any medication, the morning-after pill comes with some side effects, but most are fairly mild and will pass after a day or two. The most common ones are delayed period, spotting, nausea, lower stomach (abdominal) pain, tiredness, headache, dizziness, breast pain, vomiting, and cramping. Read more about Julie side effects and why they occur here.

The morning-after pill works during ovulation: FALSE

Julie, aka the morning-after pill, works by pausing ovulation, so if you’ve already ovulated and an egg has been released, then it likely will not work. But that doesn’t automatically mean that you’re pregnant. In fact, one-third to one-half of all fertilized eggs never implant on the uterine lining anyway, meaning they never turn into a pregnancy. Not sure if you’ve ovulated? Here’s how to tell.

The morning-after pill is safe for people at any weight: TRUE

While there is evidence that the morning-after pill, like Julie, can be less effective for people with a BMI over 25, it is still safe to take and FDA-approved for all weights. Read more about the effectiveness of Julie and different BMIs here.

It’s safe to take the morning-after pill multiple times: TRUE

While it’s always best to use a consistent form of birth control like the pill, IUD, patch, ring, or a condom to protect against pregnancy, it’s totally safe to take the morning-after pill multiple times. Beyond the side effects and temporary changes to your cycle, there are no long-term effects of taking Julie and it does not affect your ability to get pregnant in the future.

Men can’t buy the morning-after pill: FALSE

There are no gender restrictions for buying the morning-after pill. Anyone can pick up a box of Julie online or at your local Walmart.

The morning-after pill can protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs): FALSE

Morning-after pills like Julie do not protect against STIs. For STI concerns, please see a healthcare provider who can talk to you about effective methods of STI protection, routine birth control, and answer any questions you may have.

Although the information above may be useful, it shouldn’t replace the advice of your healthcare professional. For questions about birth control and other women’s health issues, please talk to your healthcare professional.