Plan B seems to cycle in and out of the news at regular intervals, but it’s not as new as the news stories might make it sound. This emergency birth control method has been around for 20 years — long before people could Google “What are the side effects of Plan B?” from a smartphone.
The method sounds deceptively easy. Just take a pill after your regular birth control method fails, and you’re good to go. But there are also some confusing factors that make things more complicated.
For example, the effectiveness can change depending on when you take it. And, like many birth control tools, there are potential side effects.
Wondering what you don’t know about the world of emergency contraceptives? They can help keep people safe, but it’s important to use them correctly for the best results. We’ll break down everything you need to know about Plan B right here — keep reading to learn what this pill can do for you.
History of Plan B
In all started in 1999. The FDA approved Plan B to be available by prescription only. Those with a Plan B prescription would take a series of two pills. The first was taken within 72 hours of a failed birth control method, and the second followed 12 hours later.
Plan B was incredibly useful: emergency contraception had never existed before. This left people who had unprotected sex or used a birth control method that failed no choice but to wait for the results of a pregnancy test.
The side effects of Plan B are minimal, especially considering how useful the pill is. But, at first, it was only available with a prescription.
It didn’t take long for people to start trying to make Plan B available over the counter.
By 2006, people over 18 could buy Plan B over the counter, but anyone younger needed a prescription. By 2009, that age had lowered to 17. Plan B One-Step (which involved taking just one pill) and a generic Plan B option called Next Choice also got FDA-approval in 2009.
In 2013, after a long legal battle, Plan B became available for people of all ages to buy over the counter, with no added restrictions.
Some lawmakers had been concerned that the side effects of Plan B would be harmful to younger users. However, it was proven that the pill was safe for all ages and that even adolescents could understand how to safely take it without consulting a doctor.
Now, buying Plan B is as easy as buying aspirin or condoms.
How Does Plan B Work?
The advent of Plan B brought many misconceptions along with it, such as the idea that it was an “abortion pill.” However, Plan B is actually a contraceptive, although it’s unique in that it’s designed to work after unprotected sex.
Today, there are a few different types of emergency contraceptive. Although they’re all often referred to as “Plan B,” there are actually several different brand names for the pill.
Some use levonorgestrel, while others use ulipristal acetate. Both are a type of hormonal medication. You need a prescription to get emergency contraception that uses ulipristal acetate, but levonorgestrel pills are available over the counter.
In fact, regular birth control pills often use levonorgestrel too. But in Plan B, the dose is much higher. When you take the pill within 72 hours of a birth control failure, the medication prevents the ovary from releasing the egg. This keeps the egg from ever getting fertilized. That way, a pregnancy never happens.
However, if the pregnancy has already begun by the time the pill gets taken, it won’t have any effect. That’s why it’s so important to take Plan B within the 72-hour timeframe. If taken later, it won’t harm a pregnancy — it will just have no effect at all.
How Effective Is Plan B?
Plan B is about 75 to 89 percent effective if taken within the proper timeframe. However, it can still work up to five days after sex without birth control. The effectiveness just goes down the longer you wait to take it, upping the risk of pregnancy.
Although Plan B works as a backup method, it’s not a main form of birth control. That’s because it’s not as effective as other methods, like the birth control pill.
Also, the side effects of Plan B mean you shouldn’t take it as a regular birth control method. The higher hormonal dose means potentially greater side effects.
Side Effects of Plan B
Although many people worry about the side effects of Plan B, they aren’t severe or serious. They’re especially minor when you take Plan B according to the instructions (rarely, and not as a regular form of birth control).
One of the main side effects is a change to your period since the high dose of hormones can interfere with it. You might notice a period that’s not on time, or is lighter or heavier than normal. If your period is late, it’s important to also confirm that you’re not pregnant, since Plan B isn’t always effective.
Other common side effects include nausea, cramps, tiredness, headaches, and dizziness. Any side effects shouldn’t last more than a few days at most.
How to Take Plan B
One of the best things about Plan B is just how easy it is to use. Just take the pill as soon as possible after unprotected sex. If you buy the kind of Plan B that has two pills, make sure to take the second one 12 hours after the first. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure you’re taking it correctly.
The sooner you take it, the more effective it will be. The time when you take Plan B might also be a good time to evaluate your current birth control methods and consider getting something more reliable.
Where to Get Plan B
To get the pill, all you need to do is visit your local pharmacy — no prescription needed.
For the convenience of Plan B One-Step, expect to pay about $40 to $50. However, if you don’t get the brand-name One-Step option, you can find less-expensive options.
You can even find inexpensive generic options online. Just make sure to only order them from a trusted source. And if you need Plan B right now, you should get it at the store, so you can take it faster. Ordering online is good when you want to stock up for the future.
No matter which brand you choose, or how inexpensive it is, it will work just as well as brand-name Plan B. They all use the same hormonal medications and the same method to prevent pregnancy.
Plan B and the Pill
If you’re on birth control pills, you might still sometimes need to take Plan B. For example, if you forget to take your pill for more than one day, and have unprotected sex, Plan B can prevent a pregnancy.
However, because Plan B uses the same hormones as your pill, you should consult your doctor or read the manufacturer’s instructions on your pills to learn how to restart them. You may not be able to start taking them normally right away.
You’ll also be at risk of pregnancy for a period of time, so make sure to use a different method like condoms during that time.
The Importance of Regular Birth Control
Plan B is a great resource, and the side effects of Plan B tend to be minimal. However, it has the name “Plan B” for a reason: it’s a backup method.
Regular birth control protects you more effectively than Plan B. Also, the side effects of Plan B are usually more intense than those of other birth controls, even the pill, since the hormonal dose is so high.
If you weigh 165 pounds or more or have a high BMI, Plan B might also be less effective for you. Although the research on this isn’t yet conclusive, your doctor might recommend a different option.
Taking Plan B can also get expensive. Regular birth control methods are much more cost-effective. You should talk to your doctor to find out which kind of birth control method might be best for you. It’s normal to experiment with a few different types before finding one that’s right for your needs.
Alternatives to Plan B
Aside from levonorgestrel pills like Plan B, and similar pills using ulipristal acetate, copper IUDs can also work as emergency contraceptives.
In fact, IUDs are even more effective than Plan B — but they aren’t as convenient to get. If you get an IUD within five days of a birth control failure, it will prevent pregnancies 99.9 percent of the time.
To use an IUD as emergency contraception, you’ll need to schedule an appointment to have it put in within the five-day timeframe. They’re equally effective at all weights and can protect you from pregnancy for years.
However, if an IUD isn’t the right option for you, Plan B is still a good choice.
Is Plan B Right for You?
The only people who can decide if Plan B is best for you are you and your doctor. It’s important to plan ahead for emergency contraception before you need it, so you have it available when the time comes.
If you’re concerned about the side effects of Plan B, or otherwise worried that it’s not right for you, talk to your doctor about other options.
And, of course, having a reliable form of regular birth control will mean you need to think about emergency contraception less often. Still, a birth control failure can happen to anyone, and it’s important to be prepared.
Your experiences with Plan B can help other people make the right choice. Have you tried this pill before? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image via Pixabay