When a medical professional performs an abortion, it is a safe procedure that carries few risks. However, women should be aware of what to expect after an abortion and how to plan their rest and recovery.
According to one analysis, it is likely that nearly 1 in 4 women of childbearing age will have an abortion before the age of 45.
In this article, we talk about what women can expect after an abortion. We also provide tips for taking care of yourself and discuss recovery time and when to see a doctor.
What to expect after an abortion
Resting and avoiding stress are important parts of the recovery process.
A doctor may recommend different methods of abortion according to a woman's medical needs and stage of pregnancy. These include:
- the abortion pill
- vacuum aspiration
- dilation and evacuation, or D&E
Women may experience similar symptoms regardless of the method. However, if a woman has an abortion later in pregnancy, especially during the second trimester, the symptoms may be more severe.
After an abortion, it is normal for women to experience the following symptoms:
- bleeding or spotting for 3–6 weeks, although some women do not bleed at all
- passing small- to medium-sized blood clots
- cramping that is similar to or slightly heavier than that of a menstrual period
- painful or swollen breasts
The usual menstrual period should return within 4–8 weeks, although the flow of the bleeding may be slightly different initially.
Some women feel very emotional or experience mood swings. The change in pregnancy hormones can be responsible for this, or it might result from their feelings about the abortion or the pregnancy. Sometimes it will be a combination of both factors.
It is possible to get pregnant very soon after an abortion, or as soon as ovulation occurs, which will happen before the first period. Therefore, it is important to use birth control or to abstain from sex when trying to avoid pregnancy.
How to care for yourself after an abortion
Applying heat to the stomach may help to relieve cramping and pain.
In the days immediately after an abortion, some women feel unwell or exhausted. Pain from cramping is common and may feel intense at times.
Women should ask someone for a ride home from the clinic and then ensure that they get plenty of rest to let their body recover and to reduce the risk of side effects. They should avoid doing anything that is emotionally or physically strenuous.
After an abortion, a woman may be more prone to infection as it can take some time for the cervix to close. To reduce the risk of infection, women should avoid:
- using tampons until their next period — using sanitary pads for any bleeding is safer
- having penetrative sex and putting anything in the vagina for 1–2 weeks
- using swimming pools for 1–2 weeks
Women may also wish to try the following self-care tips after an abortion:
- Massaging your stomach can help with cramping and passing the uterine tissue. Massaging your back may also help with cramps.
- Applying heat to your stomach or back may relieve cramping and pain.
- Taking any medication that the doctor prescribes, including antibiotics.
- Using over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen. If the pain is intense or unbearable, you must seek medical advice.
- Monitoring your temperature every day for a week, as fever could indicate an infection.
- Attending follow-up appointments after a few weeks. This is important to ensure that the abortion was complete and that the uterus is healing.
Abortion recovery times vary from woman to woman. Women who have first trimester abortions and those who do not have any complications will usually feel normal within a few days. The bleeding usually stops within 6 weeks.
Recovery may take longer for late-term abortions. If complications develop, recovery can take much longer, and people may need hospitalization or surgery. This is unusual though, and most women will recover within a few weeks.
Medical care after an abortion
Most women who have abortions will have a follow-up with a doctor within a few weeks. If there are no signs of complications, further medical care will not be necessary.
Women who experience any symptoms of complications may need an immediate appointment with a doctor. Although it is not common, some abortion complications may require a trip to the emergency room.
When to see a doctor
Women should see a doctor if they experience intense pain within a day of the abortion.
Many abortion clinics provide a 24-hour advice line that can help women to determine whether or not their symptoms need treatment. Women should call the advice line, the emergency services, or go to the emergency room if they are:
- soaking through more than one maxi pad every hour
- passing more than one blood clot that is larger than a golf ball
- feeling dizzy or faint
- having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- showing signs of an allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing
Women who have recently had an abortion should see a doctor within a day if they are:
- experiencing intense pain
- developing a fever
- noticing a foul smell coming from the vagina
- worrying that the abortion was not complete
For most women, an abortion is a straightforward medical procedure that does not cause any lasting complications.
Some women worry that an abortion might have long-term effects. However, doctors generally agree that an abortion does not affect a woman's chances of becoming pregnant in the future or increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications.
Abortion can be a difficult decision, and it is normal to experience a range of emotions. It is best to speak with a doctor about what to expect after an abortion and to follow their advice about the best steps to take.
Women can also get support from close friends and family or an abortion support group.