Baby's First Year · Parenting · Pregnancy

Emergency Birth Control

Young woman suffering from depression sitting on floor covering her face.

Studies show more than 50% of pregnancies in Canada are not planned.

With this in mind, have you thought about your reproductive life plan? Perhaps you have decided that you are not ready for a pregnancy just now …but then, life throws you a surprise. 

For example, in the heat of the moment, you and your partner forget to use a condom or other birth control before having sex.

So what can you do next?

Chi Ching Hui, a sexual health promotor at Toronto Public Health, explains emergency birth control. 

Emergency birth control (also known as emergency contraception) may help you to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

In Canada, there are two emergency birth control methods available:

  • Copper intrauterine devices (copper IUDs)
  • Emergency contraceptive pills (ECP).

Note: Emergency birth control methods do not end pregnancies or cause abortion – emergency birth control methods prevent pregnancy BEFORE it begins!

What is a copper IUD?

A copper IUD is a T-shaped piece of plastic covered in copper that fits into the uterus. Copper decreases the sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg and may stop a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

Copper IUDs can prevent pregnancy by over 95% if inserted within 7 days after unprotected sex. Once you know you are not pregnant, you can have it removed, or you could leave it as an ongoing birth control method.

Note: only Copper IUDs are helpful as an emergency method of birth control– hormonal IUDs (like Mirena or Kyleena) are excellent birth control methods, but are not emergency contraception.

What is ECP?

ECP are pills that contains either hormones (levonorgestrel) or medication (ulipristal acetate) that delay the release of an egg from the ovary. ECP must be taken within 5 days after sex – and the sooner you take them, the more effective they are. The effectiveness of the levonorgestrel containing pill is also affected by a person’s height and weight and where you are in your menstrual cycle so speak to your health care provider to see if ECP is right for you.

These emergency birth control methods, as well as other birth control methods, are available at sexual health clinics across Toronto. Some emergency contraceptive pills are also available over-the-counter in drugstores. If you would like to talk about emergency birth control, or have a doctor insert an IUD, speak to your health care provider or connect with SHILO (Sexual Health Infoline Ontario) at 1-800-668-2437.

For resources about sexuality, including birth control methods and emergency birth control, visit our Sexual Health Promotion website.

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