If you’re worried you might be pregnant, and don’t want to be, then it can be hard to think clearly so let’s run through some of the basics:
Quite often, young people come to Brook for support about being pregnant and it turns out they haven’t actually had the type of sex that would result in pregnancy.
To become pregnant, an egg must be released from your ovaries and then fertilised by sperm. Every month you release an egg (sometimes two) around 14 days after the first day of your period, or 10-16 days before the start of your next period. The egg travels down the fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the womb. Once released, the egg lives for around 24 hours. This process is called ovulation.
Technically, a woman is more likely to become pregnant during ovulation, but it’s impossible to know exactly when you are ovulating because your menstrual cycle can vary each month.
Although this might make it sound like there is a small chance of getting pregnant, it is important to remember that sperm can live in your body for up to seven days.
If you’ve had sex without using contraception within the last five days, or you think your contraception may have failed for some reason don’t panic – you can usually prevent pregnancy by using emergency contraception if you act fast.
There are two types of emergency contraception: the emergency contraceptive pill (EC pill) and the intrauterine device (IUD).
The emergency contraceptive pill (EC pill)
You can get the emergency contraceptive pill, for free, at any of the following places:
All these services are free to all, including under 16s.
If you're 16 or over, you can also buy the Levonorgestrel EC pill from most pharmacies (for around £25), and the ellaOne EC pill for around £35.
When you go to get the emergency contraceptive pill you will be asked some questions including whether you are taking any other medications, when you had unprotected sex and where you are in your menstrual cycle. This is to check if the emergency contraceptive pill is the most suitable method of emergency contraception, or whether the IUD is more suitable.
The intrauterine device (IUD)
The IUD must be fitted by a specially trained doctor or nurse and can be fitted in around 20 minutes at most Brook services, contraception and sexual health clinics, and some GPs.
It's a good idea to phone a service before you visit, just to check if and when an IUD fitting is available.
If you want more information about IUDs, you can read full details of what’s involved.
Remember, emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Find out about STIs and getting tested, and remember, STIs don’t always cause symptoms so you can’t be certain you don’t have one without being tested.
Pregnancy tests usually involve weeing on a small plastic stick, or sometimes, weeing into a cup and dipping in a test stick. The test is looking for the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) which is present in the wee of someone who is pregnant.
It takes a while for this hormone to build up in the body so there is no point doing a pregnancy test straight after unprotected sex. If you're worried about the risk of pregnancy at this point, it’s advisable to use emergency contraception. This will work up to five days after unprotected sex.
To get an accurate result it’s best to test three weeks (or 21 days) after unprotected sex or straight after your period should have been due (whichever is sooner), if you test before this time there may not be enough of the pregnancy hormone to show up in your urine.
The test will display either a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ result (check the instructions if you’re doing the test yourself for how to recognise this).
If the test is negative
A negative result means you probably aren't pregnant but it could also be that the hormone is not yet detectable. If the test is negative, but your period doesn’t happen when you expect it to, it’s recommended that you take another pregnancy test, and this is usually done a week after the first test. You may also find it useful to visit a clinic to speak to a doctor or nurse about the test result, or if you are worried. This might also be a good time to talk to someone about contraception, if you weren't trying to get pregnant.
If the test is positive
A positive result means that you are almost definitely pregnant. It’s important to see a doctor or nurse as soon as possible so they can help you think about your options. If you're pregnant it's you who gets to decide if you want to continue or end the pregnancy.
You can get a pregnancy test free of charge from:
If you’d rather do the test yourself you can buy one from a reputable source like a pharmacist or supermarket, they usually cost around £3-£15 (some can cost more). If you are doing the test yourself make sure you follow the instructions carefully and follow it up with a visit to the doctor or nurse if you have any questions.
Some people can tell that they’re pregnant because they feel different. For example, they might feel sick, tired, have tender breasts or experience mood swings. Often, the first time someone thinks they might be pregnant is when their period is late. But not everyone experiences all the possible symptoms of pregnancy.
Most pregnant people don’t get periods. However, if you have noticed that your periods are shorter or lighter than normal this can be a sign of pregnancy. There’s also something called implantation bleeding which can happen during pregnancy – after the egg is fertilised and attaches itself to the womb lining, some bleeding may happen. Sometimes, people mistake implantation bleeding for a period and don’t realise they’re pregnant. Implantation bleeding happens between 6 to 12 days after ovulation, while a period usually starts 10 to 16 days after ovulation, so it’s easy to mistake one for the other. The only way to find out for sure if you’re pregnant is by taking a pregnancy test.
If you are pregnant there are three options available to you and you have the right to choose any one of them:
For some people, making a decision about pregnancy is easy. For others, it might be difficult. However easy or hard you find the decision, it is your decision to make. The more you feel you have made your own choice, the better you will feel in the future.
If you feel it would help, you can speak to someone at a Brook service, a sexual health clinic or another young people’s service. A counsellor can listen to how you’re feeling, answer any questions you might have and give you lots of information and support to help you make a decision that feels right for you. There are also many other organisations that can help you such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) (03457 30 40 30), and Marie Stopes UK (0345 300 80 90).
The most important thing is to talk to someone as soon as possible, that way you give yourself time to consider all the options. If you talk to Brook, we will support you in the decision making process – we cannot and will not make the decision for you but we are here to listen and given accurate relevant advice and we will not judge you for the decisions you take.
Page reviewed: January 2016
Next review due: January 2017