When people talk about about abortion, they generally focus on the pregnancy and the procedure itself. But once you’ve had an abortion, what will happen? What is the best way to take care of yourself? Will it be painful or bloody, or make you sick? What medicines will make you feel better?
First, what happens in the hours and days after your abortion will vary depending on how far along in the pregnancy you were. You may have nothing but mild bleeding and crampy feelings for a few days, or you may have severe bleeding and pain that does not go away for a couple of weeks. Planned Parenthood says that for a D&C, “most women feel pain similar to menstrual cramps. For others, abortion is more uncomfortable.” You will probably have cramping throughout the first day after the abortion, and then it should ease up, although you will may have bleeding for up to two weeks. The bleeding may stop and start a few times, so you might want to keep using pads for a few days even if it has stopped, in case it starts up again unexpectedly. It’s normal to have small, brown clots for a while, especially in the morning, because blood has been sitting in your uterus or vagina while you sleep and can make clots. You can take a painkiller like ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, or Aleve to help with the pain. A heating pad on your abdomen may help, as well as massaging your stomach over your uterus (if it isn’t too sore). Press down on your uterus, just above your pelvic bone, and rub in a circular motion.
Don’t put anything in your vagina for a couple of weeks after a surgical abortion. That means no tampons, penises, dildos, or fingers! Your cervix has been opened up, and putting things in your vagina increases your risk for introducing bacteria into your uterus and getting an infection. If you have a medical abortion (that is, if you take pills like mifepristone or misoprostol to induce an abortion), it is generally safe to use tampons or have sex within a few days of taking the second pill. However, bleeding often lasts longer with a pill-induced abortion, because a surgical abortion removes most of the uterine lining manually, whereas it has to come out on its own with a medical abortion.
Complications after an abortion are very rare: Before 12 weeks’ gestation, only about 2% of patients experience complications. However, if you start to notice any bad-smelling discharge from your vagina (particularly if you start passing large clots), if your pain is getting worse instead of better, or if you run a fever over 100.4°F, please call Planned Parenthood or your doctor, or go to the emergency room. You may have an infection that needs antibiotics. Don’t panic! An infection doesn’t mean that you are going to be sterilized or that you did anything wrong, but it does need treatment, just like any infection.
What about feeling pregnant after an abortion? Feelings of nausea and breast soreness should go away within a day or so of a surgical abortion, and within several days of a medical abortion. You can get pregnant right after an abortion: start using some kind of birth control immediately! Generally, women ovulate within a few weeks of an abortion, which means they can get pregnant again, perhaps unexpectedly. However, “the pregnancy hormone, HCG (human chorionic gonadatropin), can remain in the body for up to 60 days after an abortion … This can lead to pregnancy tests with false positive results for women who take home pregnancy tests.”
In the end, yes, having an abortion will probably be somewhat painful, and you’ll have bleeding. But you should be about to go back to your regular life – back to work, school, taking care of your kids, having fun – within a day. Buy a pack of maxi-pads and a heating pad, take your ibuprofen or Aleve regularly, and treat yourself well for a few days.
Early Options of New York City. (n.d.). After your abortion. Available from http://www.earlyabortionoptions.com/after-your-abortion.html
Planned Parenthood. (2011). Abortion Q&A with Dr. Cullins. Available from http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/ask-dr-cullins/cullins-ab-5508.htm
Planned Parenthood. (2011). Caring for yourself after an abortion. Available from http://www.plannedparenthood.org/ppscm/caring-yourself-after-an-abortion-23094.htm