Life After an Abortion
Abortion affects everyone differently. While some women are able to get back to normal and resume their usual activities within 24 hours, other women might need longer to recover both emotionally and physically.
Life might feel different for the first couple of weeks, as your mind and body adjust to not being pregnant anymore. However, you should know that what you are feeling is normal, and in time, you should feel more like yourself again.
How long before your body returns to normal?
For most people, an abortion takes one to two days to complete, but that doesn't mean your pregnancy symptoms disappear immediately. Everyone is different, but in general, it could take a few days for nausea, vomiting and breast tenderness to end. For some people, these symptoms can last for seven to 10 days.
As for bleeding, it should settle down after a couple of days for most people, but it all depends on the type of abortion you have.
Julia Arnold VanRooyen, M.D., a board-certified gynecologic surgeon and advocate for women's health and reproductive rights in Wayland, Massachusetts, said there is often less bleeding with surgical abortions.
"Some patients have a small amount of bleeding after the procedure and spotting for the first several days after the procedure, usually ending after a week. This is probably the most common pattern," she said. "Other patients have heavier bleeding, including the passage of clots, for a few days after the procedure. Some have intermittent spotting that may persist for several weeks. Others have no bleeding at all following the procedure. These are all normal."
On the other hand, patients are more likely to experience heavier bleeding and clots if they have a medical abortion. Typically, the bleeding subsides after 24 hours, but you should still expect some light bleeding and spotting for a few days to several weeks following the abortion. It's not uncommon for some women to experience spotting up until their next period starts.
When is it safe to have sex?
Some women may not feel emotionally ready to have sex soon after an abortion, and that's normal. An abortion can cause a mix of emotions, and there's no timeframe for how long this will last, so you shouldn't put any pressure on yourself. Additionally, if you are bleeding lightly or spotting, you may feel more comfortable waiting until it stops.
The good news is most patients can have sex as soon as they feel ready, VanRooyen said.
"When the cervix is dilated [opened] during an abortion, there is an increased risk of infection in the uterus," she explained. "This risk is generally very low, but in the past, patients were told to avoid sex as a way of decreasing the likelihood of possible infection after the cervical dilation. We now know that the cervix closes very quickly following abortion and it is not necessary to avoid sex for most patients after abortion."
However, there are some circumstances where patients may be told to wait to have sex.
"Patients who have abortions complicated by infection or sepsis or who have injuries to the cervix will need time to recover from infection/injury before they can resume sex," VanRooyen said.
During your follow-up visit, which typically occurs two weeks after the procedure, your doctor can tell you when you can have sex again.
How soon will you become fertile again?
According to VanRooyen, patients can become fertile again as soon as five days after an abortion, although most women ovulate within two to three weeks following the abortion. Therefore, all patients should be offered contraception as part of their abortion aftercare.
If your previous birth control method failed or you weren't on any birth control before, you can get recommendations suitable for you and your lifestyle. It's important to start birth control immediately if you're planning on being sexually active. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are the only exception: You may have to wait one to two weeks before it can be fitted, but you can find this out at your follow-up visit.
What support is available?
It's understandable that some women may wish to talk to someone following their abortion. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood of Orange & San Bernardino Counties offer post-abortion resources that can be helpful to many women who need additional support. No matter what your circumstances are, there are people and organizations who will take the time to listen to you and offer support.
VanRooyen believes these resources to be extremely helpful, especially as they work to end the stigma attached to abortion. However, she cautions patients about seeking support on the many websites purporting to support women after abortion that are run by "pro-life" organizations. The information they provide is with the expectation that many women experience grief, guilt, shame and depression following an abortion, but this is often not the case. While the sites claim to be helpful, they can often be damaging.
Many organizations, such as Whole Woman's Health Alliance, offer honest and genuine conversations about abortion without any stigma, judgment or hostility. These services can be invaluable to many women in the United States.
Editor's note: Abortion is a medical procedure that is currently illegal or restricted in some portions of the United States. For more information about the legality of abortion in your area, please consult a local healthcare provider.