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Sex + Relationships

Taking Plan B Birth Control: What You Need to Know

Mistakes happen. Maybe the condom broke, maybe he got a little too excited too quickly, or maybe you realized you forgot to take your pill a few hours too late. Regardless of the reason why an unwanted pregnancy might occur, it’s important for every woman to know that you have a back-up plan: Plan B.

The 411 On Plan B:
Plan B is an emergency contraception pill that you can take up to 72 hours after having unprotected sex or after your usual method of birth control fails, like a broken condom or you forgot to insert your ring or take your pill.
It works in a few different ways. The pill utilizes a hormone, which stops an egg releasing from the ovary and thickens the cervical mucus.  This can stop the sperm from getting to the egg and also thins the lining of the uterus, which can prevent the embryo from implanting. 
When Should You Use It?
You should take Plan B within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. Dr. Hector Medina asserts that Plan B “has never been endorsed by the provider industry to use emergency contraception as a first line of prevention.” Generally it’s been understood to be a back-up method, when your birth control fails or when someone has been a victim of rape.
One Carnegie Mellon sophomore has taken Plan B twice; both times she realized she had forgotten to take her pill post-sex. She says, “I knew after the second time forgetting that the pill didn’t work for me. I switched methods of birth control because I did not want to rely on Plan B on a more permanent basis.”
It’s plausible to only use Plan B, but you should keep in mind that it is not as effective as the usual methods of birth control and can cause irregular periods if you use it too frequently. You shouldn’t make using only Plan B a habit if you want to effectively prevent pregnancy–use it only as a backup.
Also, as it is less effective than other methods of birth control, only use it in the case that your usual method fails. Don’t take it if you didn’t experience a problem “just to be safe”—there’s no reason to put your body through that.
The Side Effects:
Like any medication, Plan B has side effects, but they aren’t serious. They can range from dizziness to fatigue to changes in your period. Dr. Shefali Gandhi notes that nausea and vomiting are also side effects. These side effects generally last for one to two days. She recommends that if you can’t keep the pill down, you should contact your physician to get a replacement dose of Plan B as well as some nausea medication to take beforehand.  If you throw it up right after you take it, it might not be effective.
A Carnegie Mellon senior did encounter side effects after using Plan B, “After two or three days, I started getting really bad spotting, [that was] dark, dark brown. I also lost my appetite for the first day or so.” More than anything else she says, “It sent my emotions out of whack.”  Similar to PMS, she experienced several mood swings after taking Plan B. 
You should always consider consulting your doctor if you don’t feel well after taking Plan B to make sure what you’re experiencing is nothing beyond the usual side effects. 
Getting Plan B
Plan Bis available at any pharmacy and places like Planned Parenthood. If you’re over 17, you don’t need a prescription to purchase Plan B. If you’re under 17, you’ll need a prescription. The cost of Plan B ranges from $30 to $50 and the purchase will be absolutely confidential.
Just to be safe, Ghandi recommends obtaining a prescription of the medication itself and keeping it at home, in case you need it in the future. There is no need to carry the medication around with you, but this way you’ll have it if a situation arises.
Ultimately Plan B isn’t simple. It has side affects and isn’t as effective as the more common methods of birth control. However, it is important to understand that you have the option of Plan B if a mistake happens and you need to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
Hector M Medina, MD OB/GYN, Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Shefali Ghandi, MD OB/GYB, Sequoia Hospital
Senior at Carnegie Mellon University
Sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University

Julianne Grauel is a sophomore Professional Writing major at Carnegie Mellon University and is originally from the California Bay Area. At Carnegie Mellon she is a peer tutor for writing and an active sister in her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. This past summer, she interned at Gentry Magazine and hopes to work for a magazine after college. Julianne loves football, sushi, sunshine, and dance parties. She probably consumes far too much Red Mango froyo and can’t get enough of Project Runway. In her free time she likes to travel, watch sports center, take spinning classes and, most of all, shop.
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