January 14, 2020

Does Taking Multiple Birth Control Pills at Once Work the Same as the Morning-After Pill?

The short answer from an Ob/Gyn

Woman looking at her birth control pills while on her laptop

Q: Is it true that you can double up on birth control pills instead of buying the morning-after pill as a form of emergency contraception?

A: There is a well-studied method of emergency contraception called the Yuzpe method that involves taking a higher dose of regular birth control pills that contain both progestin and estrogen.

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But it’s not the preferred method, because it causes more side effects and is less effective than other methods such as:

  • Levonorgestrel (Plan B One-Step ® and generics).
  • Ulipristal acetate (ella®).
  • Copper-releasing IUD.

The Yuzpe method should be used only when you can’t get one of those more effective emergency contraception methods, and under supervision of a physician. It’s best used within three days of having unprotected sex.

The number of pills you would take depends on the brand of birth control that you have. The Yuzpe regimen calls for 200 mcg of ethinyl estradiol, which is the estrogen component of a birth control pill, and 1 mg of the progesterone – we recommend a levonorgestrel.

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You take that dosage in two separate sitting – the first half as soon as possible after unprotected sex (up to five days afterward) and the other half 12 hours later. (This chart lists the specific number of pills that add up to that dosage for many different birth control brands.)

It’s generally thought to be about 75% effective at preventing pregnancy, but it would not stop or harm a pregnancy if you are already pregnant. It may also cause extreme nausea because of the amount of estrogen being taken.

Your Ob/Gyn can help you find the most appropriate contraceptive option for you.

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— Ob/Gyn Diedre McIntosh, MD

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