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Self-Care After an Abortion

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 05, 2022

If you’ve had an abortion, you might wonder how to care for yourself now that it’s over. The recovery process often depends on how far along you were in your pregnancy and how the abortion was done.

The two types of abortion are:

  • Surgical: Doctors perform a procedure to remove the fetus and placenta (an organ that develops during pregnancy) from the womb.
  • Medical: You take medication to end your pregnancy. This is sometimes referred to as the “abortion pill.”

Abortions are generally safe procedures, with few major risks. Even so, mild side effects, like bleeding and cramps, are normal.

You’ll probably have some symptoms afterward, whether you had a surgical or medical abortion. Your doctor will fill you in on dos and don’ts after an abortion. Follow their instructions. Proper self-care can help ease symptoms and lower your risk of serious complications.

Recovery After an Abortion

Plan to rest after your surgical or medical abortion. You can usually resume work and other normal activities the next day, if you feel ready. But avoid strenuous exercise or any movements that trigger pain for the first few days.

If your doctor gave you pain medicines (such as narcotics) for your abortion, don’t drive for 8 hours. Don’t drive for a full day if you got IV drugs during the procedure.

Most doctors suggest that you wait at least 2-3 weeks before you have sex or insert anything into your vagina – especially if you had a surgical procedure.

Your doctor might prescribe medicines to lessen bleeding or reduce your chance of infection. Always take these drugs as directed.

Be sure to keep all your follow-up appointments. If you had a medical abortion, your doctor will check to make sure the abortion was complete.

What Symptoms Are Common After an Abortion?

Cramping and vaginal bleeding are common side effects of both surgical and medical abortions.

You may bleed for up to 4 weeks after your procedure. The amount of bleeding will vary from person to person. The flow can range from light to heavy.  After a medical abortion, you may have bleeding that’s much heavier than your normal period. 

You may notice more blood when you exercise and less when you rest. Small blood clots that are red to dark purple are normal. As your bleeding slows, it might look like a yellow or brown discharge. It can have a sour odor.

Most doctors recommend that you use sanitary pads instead of tampons, at least at first. You’ll need to change your pad every 4-6 hours. If you’ve had a surgical abortion, don’t have sex or put anything – including a tampon – into your vagina until your bleeding stops. If you had a medical abortion, ask your doctor when it’s safe to use tampons or menstrual cups. 

Cramps. Cramps usually last a few days. You can take up to 800 milligrams of ibuprofen every 6 hours or up to 1,000 mg of acetaminophen every 4 hours to relieve the discomfort. A heating pad or hot water bottle placed on your tummy may help ease the pain. Rest can help, too. You might also get relief with essential oils, deep breathing, or self-massage around your stomach, back, and hips. 

Nausea or vomiting.  These symptoms usually go away within a few days. In the meantime, you can sometimes ease nausea by drinking ginger ale or peppermint or chamomile tea. Or chew a piece of candied ginger. 

Breast symptoms. Your breasts might feel tender for up to 10 days after your procedure. Wear a bra with good support, and take over-the-counter pain relievers if you need them. It may also help to put ice packs on your breasts. Your breasts may also leak fluid, but they should return to their normal state after about 4 days. 

Other common symptoms you can get soon after an abortion include:

They should go away quickly as you recover. You can ease these symptoms with rest, and with over-the-counter medications if you need them. 

It’s best to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes and underwear during your recovery period. The abortion pill can cause chills, so keep a blanket nearby.

What Complications Can Occur After an Abortion?

Studies show abortions are safe, even safer than childbirth. Though major complications are rare, they can happen. Some include:

  • Infection: There’s a small risk of infection after both a surgical and medical abortion. Your doctor might give you antibiotics to reduce this risk if you had a procedure. To lessen your chances of infection, it’s safest to avoid baths, swimming, douching, and sex while you recover. Your doctor can tell you when it’s OK to resume these activities.
  • Incomplete abortion: This happens when the pregnancy isn’t completely removed. It’s more likely to happen after a medical abortion than a surgical one. You’ll need to have a procedure to complete the abortion.
  • Hemorrhage: While some bleeding is normal, very heavy bleeding can be dangerous.
  • Injury to organs: You can get an injury to your uterus (womb), bowel, or bladder during a surgical abortion. In rare cases, your uterus or cervix can tear. This is more likely to happen in later-term abortions.

Research shows that, in most cases, an abortion won’t increase your risk for future health conditions, such as infertility, breast cancer, or depression.

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you have signs of serious complications, which may include:

  • Heavy bleeding that increases or requires you to change your pad more than once every hour
  • Blood clots that are larger than a lemon or last 2 hours or longer
  • Symptoms of pregnancy that last longer than 2 weeks
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Pain or swelling in your leg
  • Symptoms of infection like a fever; foul-smelling vaginal discharge; discharge that looks like pus; or pain in your stomach or back

 

When Will Your Period Start Again?

Your menstrual period will likely begin 4 to 6 weeks post-abortion. But you can get pregnant before your period returns.

You can start many birth control methods right after an abortion or even the same day as the procedure. They include:

You can get an IUD or implant immediately after a surgical abortion. If you had a medical abortion, you can get an implant when you take your first pill. You can get an IUD when the abortion is completed.

If you had a second-trimester abortion, you need to wait until your cervix returns to its usual size before getting fitted before a diaphragm or cervical cap. This takes about 6 weeks.

Your Mental Health After an Abortion

There’s no right or wrong way to feel after an abortion. Some women are relieved, while others may feel sad. You might feel several emotions at once. That’s not unusual, since you still have pregnancy hormones in your body.  

Organizations like Exhale and All-Options provide free and confidential emotional support. It might also help to speak to a counselor or a trusted friend or family member.

If mood changes interfere with your daily life, or don’t go away, let your doctor know.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

UCLA Health: “Medical Versus Surgical Abortion,” “FAQ: Post-Abortion Care and Recovery.”

National Cancer Institute: “Fetus.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Placenta.”

MedlinePlus: “Abortion: Surgical.”

UCSF Health: “Medical Abortion,” “FAQ: Post-Abortion Care and Recovery.”

Mount Sinai: “Ending Pregnancy with Medications.”

NIH: “Counselling for Maternal and Newborn Health Care: A Handbook for Building Skills.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Abortion Care.”

StatPearls: “Abortion Complications.”

SAGE Open Medicine: “The abortion and mental health controversy: A comprehensive literature review of common ground agreements, disagreements, actionable recommendations, and research opportunities.”

British Pregnancy Advisory Service: “Caring for yourself after an abortion.” 

Carafem: “After Abortion Care: Symptoms to Watch for & Recovery Tips.”

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