How does the morning-after pill work?

Comment fonctionne la pilule du lendemain ?
In collaboration with Lea Wauquier, Doctor of Pharmacy

Relecture professionnelle

What is emergency contraception?

The morning-after pill is emergency contraception used to prevent pregnancy following unprotected or inadequately protected sexual intercourse. It is generally taken after forgetting to take the pill, breaking the condom or failing to protect oneself. There are two types: levonorgestrel, which can be used between 0 and 3 days after unprotected intercourse, and ulipristal acetate, which can be used up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse. The earlier you take the pill, the more effective it is: taken within 24 hours of unprotected intercourse, its efficacy is 95%, then drops to 85% on the second day, and finally to 58% if taken between 48 and 72 hours. It is therefore preferable to take it as soon as possible. In either case, they are not 100% effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy.

pilule du lendemain

How does the morning-after pill work?

The morning-after pill is not an abortifacient drug (which triggers an abortion), it merely prevents fertilization of the egg by a spermatozoon. Once the egg has been fertilized, the morning-after pill is ineffective. It's the hormone (levonorgestrel for the former and ulipristal acetate for the latter) present in the pill that blocks the growth of the ovarian follicle, thereby delaying the moment of ovulation.

Does the morning-after pill cause side effects?

Like many drugs, the morning-after pill can cause side effects such as nausea (if you vomit within 3 hours of taking the pill, you'll need to take another one, as it won't be properly absorbed), lower abdominal pain, bleeding that isn't your period (in this case, menstrual panties can be a solution) and disruption of the menstrual cycle. The morning-after pill blocks the ovarian follicle and thus ovulation, which can delay future cycles.

How do I obtain the morning-after pill?

Emergency contraception is available to anyone:

You can obtain the morning-after pill free of charge if you have a medical prescription from your gynecologist, midwife or doctor, for example. This will be reimbursed with your carte vitale.

For minors, the morning-after pill is free and can be distributed anonymously. It can also be someone else who collects the morning-after pill for you. However, it is preferable for the person concerned to go herself, as she will benefit from precise advice and important information that may be poorly relayed if someone else collects it. Don't hesitate to consult or ask a healthcare professional if you have any questions.

A very important point to note: the morning-after pill remains an emergency contraception, it should not be taken systematically and it absolutely does not protect against sexually transmitted infections and diseases! So in the event of unprotected sexual intercourse, it's important to have an STI/STD check-up.

The morning-after pill is available to everyone without a prescription. It is free for adults without social security coverage and for minors. Emergency contraception can be dispensed anonymously and free of charge.

Where can I get the morning-after pill?

The school nurse can deliver the morning-after pill as emergency contraception to a minor. It is free of charge.

Emergency contraception is available from pharmacies: the cost of the morning-after pill with levonorgestrel is between 3 and 7 €. Ulipristal costs less than 20 €.

The morning-after pill is available from family education centers (CEGIDD), planning or family education centers (CPEF), free centers for information, screening and diagnosis of human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV), hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections.

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The information contained in the articles on is general information only. Although reviewed by health professionals, this information is not error-free, does not constitute health advice or consultation, and is not intended to provide a diagnosis or suggest a course of treatment. Under no circumstances may this information be used as a substitute for medical advice or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have any questions, please consult your doctor.