One shouldn’t be a substitute for the other.
When it comes to preventing pregnancy, there’s really no such thing as being too careful. Especially now — after a June 24 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the constitutionally protected right to an abortion — if you’re not looking to have a kid, it’s smarter (and safer) to take all the action you can to keep yourself from getting pregnant in the first place. But let’s face it: Sometimes, even when you’ve taken all the right steps, your regular birth control fails you. And it’s times like those when you turn to emergency contraception like Plan B — even if you’re already on birth control — to make sure you’re protected.
Plan B One-Step, known as Plan B or the morning-after pill, is your backup when birth control pills, IUDs, implants, sponges, condoms, or any other form of birth control didn’t work as intended. Birth control pills, though 99% effective when taken consistently, are not always a foolproof contraceptive method. Aside from potentially debilitating side effects associated with certain kinds of birth control pills (awesome!), they require some maintenance and planning. You have to take one every day at roughly the same time, manage your monthly prescriptions, and monitor your body’s reactions to the drugs. For busy people with a lot on their plate, it can be hard to keep track of. Sometimes you miss a pill, or three, or five. And that’s when you might scoot yourself down to a CVS and tell your partner to shell out the $50 for a pack of Plan B.
Plan B is a pill available over-the-counter at most drug stores and pharmacies, though be aware that pharmacists in some states are legally allowed to refuse to provide contraceptive services for religious reasons. The hormone in the pill is called levonorgestrel, which is a progestin that can “prevent ovulation, block fertilization, or keep a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus,” according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s different from an abortion pill, so it’s not impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson (at least for now), and, of course, it’s different from birth control pills, which you might end up taking at the same time as a Plan B morning-after pill.
Read on for everything you need to know about taking Plan B while on birth control, because there’s more than one way to protect yourself against an unwanted pregnancy.
Can I Take Plan B On Birth Control?
Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder and CEO of Walk In GYN Care, says it’s totally fine to take Plan B while you’re also taking birth control pills or using other forms of contraception. “If you are taking your birth control pills regularly and correctly or are on an IUD, you normally do not require additional Plan B,” she tells Elite Daily. “However, if you are concerned, then you can take Plan B.”
If you have reason to believe that you had unprotected intercourse and your regular form of birth control was interrupted or simply malfunctioned — basically, if there’s a chance you might get pregnant — Dr. Gupta says it’s fine to take Plan B within 72 hours of the sexual encounter.
Dr. Jenna McCarthy, M.D., advisor on the WINFertility Medical Board and a reproductive endocrinologist, adds that while Plan B is generally safe to take while on birth control, it’s not a replacement for your regular form of contraception.
“Yes, you can take Plan B even if you are taking the birth control pill,” she says. “But make sure to keep taking your birth control even after taking Plan B, especially if you are taking it because you missed one or more doses of your pill.”
Ultimately, Plan B is called emergency contraception for a reason: It’s for emergencies only, and isn’t meant to be taken regularly. “I urge women to be more conscious of protecting themselves by being on a reliable method of contraception,” Dr. Gupta says. “Plan B is not a method of ongoing contraception.”
Are There Side Effects Of Taking Plan B On Birth Control?
While progestin is a key ingredient in some oral contraceptive pills, it’s used in different doses than it is in Plan B, and sometimes it’s combined with estrogen. If you have side effects from birth control, you might experience an increase after taking Plan B.
Dr. McCarthy says that Plan B may affect your period for one or two cycles, “but it should normalize in six weeks or so.”
“If your period is delayed or you have irregular cycles, please do a home pregnancy test and make sure that you are not pregnant,” Dr. Gupta adds. “Please see your gyno for a blood test and ultrasound if the periods do not normalize.”
Other common side effects associated with Plan B include nausea, abdominal pain, and potential acne flare-ups.
Are There Health Concerns With Plan B, Especially When On Birth Control?
Dr. Gupta stresses that there aren’t really any documented health concerns with Plan B, even when taking other forms of birth control. “Since it's a one-time thing, it doesn't have any major health risks,” she says.
But there are quite a few misconceptions about Plan B that can lead to other complications or unwanted pregnancy — especially around timing.
“Many times, women think that Plan B is 100% effective in preventing a pregnancy. It is not,” Dr. Gupta says. “If it's not taken in the correct window or even if it is taken in the correct window, it may not work 100% [of the time].” Plan B was designed to be taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, which is when it will be most effective at preventing pregnancy. While it can still be taken 48 or 72 hours after unprotected sex, the efficacy rate at that point hovers around 75-89%.
Emergency contraception also tends to have weight limits, and becomes less effective for people over 165 pounds. An alternative to the pill, and an option for people over the weight limit (which is… a lot of people), would be to get a copper IUD inserted within five days of the sexual encounter. That’s, of course, a full-on procedure that can be quite painful, so it’s not ideal. But it is an option.
While there are many ways to prevent pregnancy, none of them are 100% effective and some could use a boost from a second form of contraception. Despite changing laws and political turmoil, there are still some safe, healthy options available — like Plan B — that can help prevent pregnancy and keep you living your life as normal.
Dr. Jenna McCarthy, M.D., advisor on the WINFertility Medical Board and a reproductive endocrinologist
Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder and CEO of Walk In GYN Care