Proper self-care is important for physical health and mental well-being. Practicing physical and emotional care may help with healing after an abortion.

According to one analysis, it is likely that about 1 in 4 women will have an abortion during their reproductive years.

The Dobbs decision

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that secured a person’s constitutional right to an abortion.

This means that individual states are now able to decide their own abortion laws. As a result, many states will ban or severely restrict abortion access.

The information in this article was accurate and up to date at the time of publication, but the facts may have changed since. Anyone looking to learn more about their legal rights can message the Repro Legal Helpline via a secure online form or call 844-868-2812.

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When performed by a medical professional, abortion is a safe procedure and carries few risks. However, people should be aware of what to expect afterward — both physically and mentally.

This article discusses what to expect after having an abortion, how to care for oneself, and when to contact a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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There are several different types of abortion. A doctor will recommend the appropriate method for a person’s medical needs and stage of pregnancy. Types of abortion include:

  • the abortion pill
  • vacuum aspiration
  • dilation and evacuation, or D&E

Learn more about the different types of abortion.

After the procedure, a person’s usual menstrual period should return in 4–6 weeks. However, they may have irregular spotting or bleeding initially.

Some people have strong emotions and changes in mood in the days and weeks following an abortion. The sudden change in hormones can cause this, and a person’s feelings about their abortion or pregnancy may also contribute.

Having an abortion can be an emotionally challenging experience, and people may want to seek support from close friends in the days and weeks after the procedure.

It is possible to get pregnant as soon as a person ovulates. This happens before the first period, and it can be very soon after an abortion. Therefore, it is important to use contraception or abstain from sex if a person is trying to avoid pregnancy.

People may experience symptoms regardless of the type of abortion they have. However, symptoms can be more severe if a person has an abortion in the third trimester.

After an abortion, it is typical to experience the following symptoms:

  • light vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • pain and cramping
  • painful or swollen breasts

In the days immediately following an abortion, a person may feel tired and drained.

Physical care

Pain from cramping — similar to menstrual cramps — is common.

People should have a friend or family member take them home after the procedure. If possible, they may want to take the following day or two off work to ensure that they get plenty of rest. They should try to avoid doing physically or emotionally strenuous activities.

After an abortion, it takes some time for the cervix to close, which leaves a person at an increased risk of infection. To reduce the chances of an infection, for 2 weeks, they should avoid:

  • using tampons
  • having penetrative sex
  • putting anything in the vagina
  • using swimming pools

It is also important to take care of oneself after having an abortion. Although the procedure itself is relatively short, it can take several days or weeks to recover physically. A person can try:

  • massaging the stomach and lower back
  • using a heat pack
  • taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • attending follow-up appointments

Emotional care

Choosing to have an abortion can be a difficult decision, and it can be an emotionally challenging experience.

Hormonal shifts exacerbate this after the procedure, which can cause mood changes. After having an abortion, a person’s progesterone and estrogen levels gradually decrease. This can cause low mood and changes in mood.

As a person’s menstrual cycle returns and their hormone levels will stabilize.

However, some people experience ongoing emotional difficulties which they should not ignore. There is a link between abortion and higher rates of depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and other mental health conditions.

Additionally, people with a history of mental health challenges may be at an increased risk of these effects.

People should take adequate time off work, speak with family members and friends, and contact a doctor if they experience mental health difficulties.

Abortion recovery times vary from person to person. If someone has a first-trimester abortion with no side effects, they will likely recover in a few days.

Recovery may take longer for late-term abortions. If complications develop, recovery can take several weeks. However, this is unlikely, as just 2% of people have abortion-related complications.

Most people who have abortions will have a follow-up appointment in a few weeks. If there are no signs of complications, further medical care will not be necessary.

People who experience any symptoms of complications should make an immediate appointment with a doctor. Although it is not common, some abortion complications may require a trip to the emergency room.

Many abortion clinics provide a 24-hour advice line that can help people determine whether their symptoms need treatment. Individuals should call the advice line, their local emergency services, or go to the emergency room if they:

  • have increased or excessive bleeding that soaks 2 or more maxi-size pads within 1–2 hours
  • experience severe back or abdominal pain
  • are feeling dizzy or faint
  • have a fever
  • have foul-smelling discharge
  • experience nausea and vomiting

For most people, abortion is a straightforward medical procedure that does not cause any lasting complications.

Some individuals worry an abortion may have long-term effects. However, doctors generally agree that an abortion does not affect a person’s chances of becoming pregnant in the future and does not increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications.

Having an abortion can be a difficult decision, and it is typical to experience a range of emotions. If a person has emotional or physical challenges after an abortion, they should contact a doctor.

It is important to note that having an abortion can be difficult mentally as well as physically. For many people, the sudden shift in hormone levels, combined with the emotional strain of choosing to have the procedure, can make recovery difficult.

People should reach out to close friends and family members for support during this time. They can also get support from an abortion support group.