Neglected to use a condom or miscalculated your "safe days?" Don't stress out. Emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, gives women some extra options, and a new one may be coming soon.

If you're weighing your options about backup birth control, here's 10 frequently asked questions answered by experts Jennifer Wu, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, Melissa Gilliam, MD, associate professor and chief of family planning and contraceptive research at the University of Chicago, Mary Rosser, MD, Ph.D.,  assistant professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and Dr. Svetlana Kogan, MD, founder of the Doctors at Trump Place in New York City.

1. First off, what's the deal on ellaOne, the newest morning-after pill?

Sometimes called Plan C, ellaOne was launched last fall in Britain. If it's approved for use here in the U.S., it will offer more protection against pregnancy than the other emergency medication since it works for five days after sexual intercourse. Though ellaOne is considered effective for longer than the morning-after pill already on the market, don't expect to see it here right away. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the last word on whether it will be approved, though an advisory committee supports the drug. "ellaOne is very encouraging," Gilliam says, "because it could prevent more unwanted pregnancies, even at five days after intercourse."

2.  How does the current morning-after pill work?

The current morning-after pills, Plan B, One Step, and Next Choice, generally need to be taken within 72 hours of having unprotected intercourse. The medication typically consists of two pills of progestin, a hormone, and thickens a woman's cervical mucus and makes it hostile to sperm. This thick mucus blocks sperm and prevents it from fertilizing an egg. It's not an abortion pill, since no egg gets fertilized. "The pill alters the wall of the uterus to make it less receptive to an egg," Wu explains.

3. What are the possible side effects? 

Nausea and vomiting are not uncommon, and you can also expect some breast tenderness, headaches, and dizziness. If you're worried about feeling queasy and throwing up, you can take an anti-nausea medicine before taking the first pill.

4. Is it ever not safe to take the morning-after pill?

It's generally considered safe for everyone to take, Wu says. Some women worry that if they've been told not to take birth control pills, they should not take the morning after-pill, but experts say this is not the case. The morning-after pill does contain the same hormones as birth control pills, but these hormones don't remain in a woman's body over time as they do with birth control pills. Millions of women have used the morning-after pill without serious complications.

5. Is taking the morning-after pill sort of like having a very early abortion?

Absolutely not. "This is probably the biggest misconception that people have," Kogan says. "It is not an abortion pill. It prevents an ovulation. And if there is no ovulation, there is no way that a sperm and an egg can get together. It's more like a preventive measure."

6. What happens if you don't use the morning-after pill early enough, and you become pregnant? Would the hormones in the medication hurt the developing fetus?

No, says Wu. "In fact, sometimes progestin is used in early pregnancy anyway to support a pregnancy," she says. "You don't need to worry if you take the morning-after pill while pregnant."

7. Can you get the morning-after pill without a prescription?

You can buy it in pharmacies without a prescription if you are 18 or over, but it's not on display on the shelf. You have to ask a pharmacist for it. If you are under 18, you will need a prescription. Generally, the medication costs around $50 over the counter.

8. Will my health insurance cover the morning-after pill?

Since it's over the counter most of the time, insurers don't usually cover the cost of the drug.

9. If it's hard for me to remember to take a birth control pill every day, would I be better off just taking the morning-after pill if I think I might have had unprotected sex?

Repeated use of emergency contraception is not recommended since, over time, it can cause irregular periods.

10. So when would I use the morning-after pill?

Use it as soon as possible after having unprotected sex when you don't want to get pregnant. This would include if you forgot to take your birth control pills, if used a diaphragm incorrectly, if a condom broke, if you were raped, or if you simply miscalculated the days when you were fertile.


Planned Parenthood: Emergency contraception (the morning after pill)

"FDA recommends new emergency contraceptive." By Tara A. Lewis. 18 June 2010. Newsweek.