One in four American women will have an abortion before the age of 45, according to a 2017 analysis by Guttmacher Institute, which doesn't include abortion after miscarriage, such as a D&C. If you’re considering having an abortion for any reason, it’s important to know your options. Medical abortions, which the FDA now permanently allows by mail, can only be used up to 11 weeks after a missed period (especially important to note since many people don’t realize they’re pregnant until beyond six weeks). At week 12 and beyond, a person who is pregnant can opt for an in-person surgical procedure. Neither is “better” than the other: It’s important to choose what works best for you.
But whichever you choose, do you know what happens after an abortion? Just as essential as knowing the facts about the procedure is knowing what to expect when you get home. If you’re considering having an abortion, here’s your guide to post-abortion symptoms, red flags and recovery.
Symptoms to expect after an abortion
Don’t panic: Several symptoms after an abortion are perfectly normal. Period-like discomforts, like cramping and bleeding, are to be expected, and can persist for two or three weeks. You may even pass small blood clots. Other common symptoms include sore breasts, nausea and fatigue.
If you had a surgical abortion, you may also experience some common side effects from anesthesia, like shaking, blurred vision, headaches and feeling dizzy or lightheated. These are all temporary and should subside within 24 hours.
As with any procedure, there is a slight chance of more serious symptoms, such as:
- Heavy bleeding (not just spotting) for more than two weeks
- Severe pelvic or abdominal pain
- A fever of 100.4 degrees or higher that lasts for more than four hours
- Passing blood clots that are larger than a golf ball
Some symptoms may also signal that the abortion was unsuccessful, like:
- No bleeding at all
- Pregnancy symptoms, like nausea and fatigue, that persist for more than two weeks after the procedure
- No period within six weeks after the procedure
When to see a doctor
The more serious symptoms above are all grounds for a call to the doctor. They may be signs of complications such as tissue remaining in the uterus, blood clots blocking the cervix, or bacterial infection. If you are still pregnant, a doctor will help you pursue further treatment, whether that’s another dose of the abortion pill or a surgical procedure.
Regardless of how you’re feeling, you’ll want to follow up with your doctor to ensure that recovery is going smoothly. If you had a medical abortion, check in with your doctor within one to three weeks. For a surgical abortion, a follow-up should occur after about two weeks.
Self-care tips for after an abortion
Resting after having an abortion isn’t lazy or self-indulgent: it’s necessary. If at all possible, you’ll want to take a break from work for at least two days. Be sure to stock up on menstrual pads–tampons could increase risk of infection if used within two weeks of the procedure. Exercise and having sex should be postponed for several days, too. Use that free time to soothe cramps by sinking into a hot bath, using a heating pad or hot water bottle, or napping the day away.
After you’ve rested, it may feel good to gently move your body. Now isn’t the time to go back to your CrossFit class; instead, try some yoga poses. You may even be able to find yoga practices online specifically for pregnancy loss. If that feels too strenuous, simple stretches throughout the day, like touching your toes or reaching for the sky, can be just as helpful to relieve your body and mind.
Another feel-good activity is massage. Using your favorite lotion or body oil, gently massage your stomach, lower back or anywhere else on your body that needs some TLC. Incorporating massage into your morning or nightly routine may help relieve aches and pains, and has the added benefit of keeping you in tune with your body and aware of any symptoms.
Every reason for getting an abortion is valid, and every emotion that follows is valid, too. You may be feeling anything from grief to relief–and, sometimes, everything in between. Your emotions may oscillate and change as the hours, days and weeks go by. Whenever possible, take some time to monitor your thoughts and feelings. Remember that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to feel and to stay as objective as possible.
Are your emotions too much to handle? Check in with a trusted friend, family member or loved one. If you feel like there’s no one you can talk to, consider joining a post-abortion support group (whether in-person or online) or seeking counseling or therapy. If you need to get your feelings out of your head, try journaling, making art or pursuing a hobby that makes you happy. And if you’re feeling content, relieved or perfectly fine? Know that these feelings are normal, too. Your experience is yours and doesn’t need to be compared to anyone else’s.
Recovery time after an abortion
The time it takes to recover after an abortion varies from person to person. You may feel ready to go back to work the next day, or you may need to take it easy for a full week. Pay attention to your symptoms and to your emotions–both will dictate when you’re ready to return to your regular routine.
If you feel alone during your post-abortion recovery, a variety of resources exist to help you find comfort, support and validation. These include:
- Planned Parenthood doesn’t just provide abortions–they also offer post-abortion counseling, medications, follow-up exams, and more
- Exhale’s free text line connects you with a counselor who can help you process your feelings, find more resources, and more
- Option Line is another great resource to connect with peer counselors, whether through text, online chat, or phone
Finally, The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can help if you’re experiencing depression after your abortion. You don’t even need to wait until you’re suicidal to call–they offer prevention and crisis resources, too.
No matter what you may be feeling after your abortion, your experience is valid. And whenever you’re ready to move on–no matter how long it takes–the rest of your life will be waiting for you.
British Pregnancy Advisory Service. Abortion treatments. 2021.
Guttmacher Institute. Abortion is a common experience for U.S. women, despite dramatic declines in rates. 2021.