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Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Morning After

So, I guess my last post needs a little explanation, but first let me fill in the background details first.

I personally believe that life begins at conception. The word 'conception' (for me, at least) is when sperm fuses with an egg to create the human foetus. This is how I define it - it is by no means the medical definition of the beginning of human life.

The current 'morning after' pill is made out of female hormones. The hormones used to make the 'morning after' pill are the same as those used to make the oral contraceptive tablets, but a much larger dose.

The oral contraceptive tablet works by suppressing ovulation, that is, the release of the egg from the woman's ovaries. The oral contraceptive tablet works by maintaining the female hormones of the blood at a certain concentration which causes the ovaries to 'sleep'. This is also how the 'morning after' pill works. No ovulation = no egg = no conception = no pregnancy.

As the 'morning after' pill is a massive dose of hormones, it can suppress ovulation much quicker than the oral contraceptive tablet but it also has a greater effect on the rest of the body in terms of side effects, which is why it is used only in emergencies. Since the hormones in the pill need time to act, emergency contraceptive pills should be taken as close to the time of sex as possible in order to prevent ovulation (and by extension, pregnancy)- the recommended time frame is within 12 hours.

So, as you can imagine, the 'morning after' pill will not prevent pregnancy in someone who has already ovulated or is already pregnant. It will also have no effect on an existing pregnancy.

A woman who has used the 'morning after' pill usually bleeds a few days afterward (although not all women will bleed). This has to do with the natural response of the body to the changes in hormone levels in the blood. This has nothing to do with the bleeding associated with the loss of pregnancy.

(There are tablets available that one can take in order to effect an abortion. These are different from the 'morning after' pill, and are only available to women who have decided to have a medical termination of pregnancy and who have had the necessary counselling by their doctors. These tablets are only given in a hospital setting with proper monitoring for at least 24 hours.)

So, now that I have explained how the 'morning-after' pill works, I hope you can understand why it is something that I can happily offer to a woman who has been raped.

And there are other women out there, perhaps, who have used the 'morning after' pill in the past, and currently feel guilty about it. I think it is important for them to know how emergency contraception works - life is hard enough without all the emotional baggage.


Anonymous Kim said...

Thank you for the explanation. What is the name of the pill? So it's not RU-486?

11:51 pm  
Blogger tscd said...

Kim: I know it as 'Levonelle' or 'Levonorgestrel'. I'm not sure what RU-486 means. Is that an American brand name?

1:12 am  
Blogger tscd said...

I should explain that I only use Levonelle in my practice, and it is the current drug of choice in the UK, so my comments on emergency contraception may not apply to other types of emergency contraceptive pills. Anyone considering emergency contraception should ask their doctor how the pill works before they use it. Or at least read the packet!

1:15 am  

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