If the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that self-care is super important. That’s probably why we’re seeing more and more questions online and in our DM’s about how to care for yourself, a close friend, or a partner after an abortion or during an abortion at home. If you’re not sure what to expect or how to support yourself, or your friend, we got you.
First Things First: You Are Not Alone
Say it with me now: Abortion is a normal, common medical procedure. According to our friends at the Guttmacher Institute, over 860,000 people in the US chose to have an abortion in 2017, either through the abortion pill or an abortion procedure. According to 2014 abortion rates, one in four people with uteruses will have an abortion by the time they are 45. So please know that you are not alone. Think about four people with uteruses you know. One of them may have had or will have an abortion.
Also, know that it’s totally normal to have questions about what to expect during this process. Abortion is not something a lot of people regularly talk about. If you’re feeling nervous, it can help to learn more about these safe, convenient, and affordable abortion methods.
So what is it like after an abortion? You’ve come to the right place to find out! Before we dig in, just know that everyone’s experience can be a little different. Our first recommendation is to slow down and think about what you can do so that the person having an abortion feels prepared and cared for. Whether that is for yourself or for a person you are supporting. If you are caring for someone who is having an abortion, it’s important to listen first. Let the person you care about call all of the shots. Ask what the best kind of support for them looks like from you and how you can make them more comfortable. If you are experiencing an abortion yourself, we can help you plan some self-care options that might make things a little easier.
In case you’re looking for information on what it’s like to have an abortion at home with the abortion pill, we got your covered here.
Common After Abortion Symptoms and Experiences
To start, the most important thing to keep in mind is that both an in-office procedure and the abortion pill are very safe and effective. Here are some of the things you, or the person you care about, can expect after an abortion. If you recently had an abortion and are concerned about any of these post-abortion effects being outside of the normal range, please give us a call at (855) SAY-CARA.
Bleeding and Spotting
Everyone’s body and their experiences are unique and just like having your period, the bleeding and cramping can ebb and flow and is different for everyone. After an abortion, most people will see bleeding off and on for a while. After using the abortion pill, the heaviest bleeding happens on the day misoprostol is used, but it is not unusual to see bleeding off and on for the next several weeks. It’s also normal for some people to bleed very little the day after the actual abortion. We suggest using a pad when bleeding is heavy, just so you can track how much you’re bleeding. Using a tampon or menstrual cup is safe to use as soon as you feel ready. If your bleeding becomes heavy enough to soak through 2 pads in less than an hour for 2 hours or more, or if blood clots are bigger than a lemon, call us at (855) SAY-CARA.
Cramping and Pain
Cramping pain often decreases with bleeding but can come back and be off and on up until your first post-abortion period. The best pain reliever after an abortion is ibuprofen. A heating pad or hot water bottle can help a lot. If you have pain that is severe and sustained, please give us a call or contact your provider for advice.
Most people experience relief from nausea very quickly after an abortion, often as soon as within hours. If you have some lingering nausea or other stomach issues, many find that drinking herbal tea or ginger ale or even chewing a small piece of ginger candy can help.
Breast tenderness is often the last pregnancy symptom to go away. Ibuprofen, ice packs, and wearing a snug-fitting bra can help. Some people may have some fluid leaking from their breasts after an abortion. It’s completely normal and will go away within a few days. Try to avoid touching or massaging your breasts as that can actually prolong this symptom.
It’s ok to have a wide range of feelings after having an abortion. There are still some pregnancy hormones in your system, so this is to be expected. It’s completely fine to feel relief while other people might feel sad or even angry. Remember, there are no “correct” emotions during this experience. If your mood keeps you from doing the things you normally do each day, it’s okay to ask for help or call someone. There are also many organizations that provide confidential emotional support, like Exhale or All-Options if you’d like to talk to someone about your personal abortion experience.
A Sense of Relief — Even 5 Years Later
A recent study published in Social Science & Medicine found that over a five-year span, high proportions of people felt abortion was the right decision across all 5 years and there was no evidence of emerging negative emotions. In fact, relief was the most commonly felt emotion at all times during the five year period. Read more about the study’s findings here.
Now that you know some of the symptoms you might experience, here are some tips for how to take care of yourself, or someone you care about after an abortion. During the actual abortion process is when the strongest physical effects can occur but some of these symptoms happen after the fact for both abortion pills and in-office abortion procedures. If you are supporting a friend during or after an abortion, remember to listen and let them tell you what they want or need.
Most people choose to wear loose, comfortable clothing, and warm socks during and after their abortion. The abortion pill can cause chills so a soft, fuzzy, warm blanket can feel nice. A heating pad or hot water bottle is one of the best ways to soothe cramping – they can make a great gift too and you can even make your own. Here’s an easy tutorial with 3 different ways to make a homemade heat pad. For some, the abortion pill can cause both chills and hot sweats, so you might keep an ice pack and a heating pad nearby and alternate between the two as needed.
It’s also a good idea to stay hydrated so keep a water bottle close and refill it often. If experiencing nausea, herbal teas like ginger, peppermint, or chamomile can help settle an upset stomach. Not a tea drinker? Ginger ale works great too! You can also try chewing on a small piece of raw ginger or sucking on ginger candy.
Assorted small snacks that are easy to nibble on are nice to have around. When it comes to eating, stick with salty or sweet things, instead of anything greasy or spicy. Pro tip: make sure you, or your friend, have some of these things ready before having the abortion so you are extra prepared and don’t have to run any errands.
Massage and Heat Therapy
Take this time to treat yourself to some self-care. Back and shoulder massage can do wonders to release tensions and improve circulation. If you aren’t up for a massage right away, that’s ok! Just keep it in mind because it could be a good option a few days after your abortion to help you to relax and soothe your body. Even if professional massage is not for you, some light massage on your stomach, hips, and back can help relieve lingering cramps and pain. Essential oils are also a nice way to indulge your senses and improve your breathing, which can help with relaxation. Many people find the smell of lavender relaxing and peppermint can help with tension and nausea. Alternatively, drawing a nice hot bath and sipping some tea is a great way to unwind.
Care for Your Mood and Get Back to Normal
Like we said above, it’s okay to feel relieved after having an abortion. It’s also okay to feel any other way. No matter what you feel, be sure to give yourself time and space to process your feelings and know all your emotions are valid. Sometimes talking about your abortion can be a helpful form of self-care. If you have a supportive friend, family member, or partner that you trust – reach out to them and let them know how you are feeling. Or, if you want to talk, but aren’t ready to do so with friends and family, Exhale or All-Options are two great confidential options. And, as always, you can give us a call at (855) SAY-CARA if you want to speak to a clinician.
More Self-Care Options
Looking to chill and do some at-home self-care? Here are a few things we recommend to show yourself (or your friend) some love.
- Watch one of these 50 feel-good movies. If you can plan ahead, we recommend renting Obvious Child, which is funny, endearing, and about a woman having an abortion. You may also be able to stream it from one of these channels.
- Not ready for more abortion talk? We also love this list from Thrillist of the Best Comfort TV Shows to Watch on Netflix right now.
- Take a long, hot bath or shower. Extra pampering is encouraged in the form of hair/face masks, exfoliation, or good smelling soaps. Which leads us to:
- Make a DIY face mask or hair mask.
- Journal to help keep track of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. No journal around? You can always write an email to yourself or make a note on your phone.
- Meditate. Get your thoughts in line with help from an app like Calm or Headspace, which provides guided meditation for beginners.
- Try some yoga positions to help de-stress and ease cramping.
- Indulge your sweet tooth by baking cookies or brownies. If you’re not up for baking, just make sure to treat yourself to something else yummy — maybe a comforting nostalgic food like a favorite childhood cereal or snack.
- Read stories from other people who have had an abortion (more here).
- Listen to your favorite tunes. Need some jams to help power it out? Luckily for you, we put together this good as hell Spotify playlist. Enjoy!
Use Medicines as Prescribed and Attend Follow Up Appointments
It goes without saying but always follow the treatment plan your provider shared with you or your loved one. Make sure you understand your post-abortion care instructions and when to use your medications so your experience can be as pain-free and easy as possible. If you have any questions or concerns, you can always call us at (855) SAY-CARA.
Unconditional, Non-judgemental Love and Support
Most importantly, offer unconditional, non-judgemental love and support to yourself or your friend. That can take a lot of different forms, so take the time to listen to yourself or your loved one. And remember, all feelings are valid whether they are happy, sad, angry, thankful, or anything in between…or even all of them at once. Be gentle with yourself and try to leave plenty of room and space to just react and breathe. This is a unique experience for everyone so what you feel and how you process it is unique, normal, and ok. We’re here for you if you need anything.
Common Abortion Recovery Questions
For the vast majority of people having an abortion is a relatively uncomplicated and straightforward medical experience. Nearly all of our clients can return to normal activities within 24 hours. We do recommend that you plan to take some time for yourself, get help with family duties if possible, and avoid any very strenuous activities for about a 24 hour period.
When will my period return?
Most of our clients experience a normal period within 4-6 weeks after their abortion. If it hasn’t returned after this time, or if you feel ongoing pregnancy symptoms more than a few days after your abortion, please give us a call at (855) SAY-CARA.
When can I use tampons or a menstrual cup?
We suggest using regular full-sized maxi pads immediately after your abortion to better know how much you are bleeding. You can return to using tampons or a menstrual cup anytime you feel ready. There is no evidence that it is harmful to use a menstrual cup or tampon after an abortion, but pads make it much easier to see how heavy your bleeding is.
When can I have sex?
There is no specific time you must wait to resume having sex. You can do so whenever you feel ready. Be aware, you can become pregnant again very quickly if you have sex after an abortion without using reliable birth control.
How long will the bleeding last?
Bleeding is common for up to several weeks, especially after using the abortion pill. As long as the amount is the same or less than a period, it is likely normal – even if bleeding starts and stops or varies between spotting and heavier amounts. Color can range from dark brown to bright red and still be normal. If you are concerned about bleeding, please call your carafem health care team at (855) SAY-CARA.
When can I get pregnant? Should I start birth control?
It’s possible to get pregnant right away after an abortion. We recommend starting a reliable method of birth control on the same day as taking the abortion pill or having the abortion procedure if you wish to prevent another pregnancy. We are happy to help you with this if you have questions. It is possible to ovulate and become pregnant within 2 weeks or less of an abortion. Please know that having an abortion won’t affect your chances of getting pregnant or having normal pregnancies in the future.
When can I go back to work / school?
Most of our clients feel fine the day after their abortion and can return to normal activities as soon as they feel ready. Everyone is different, so remember to listen to your body!
Abortion Information You Can Trust
carafem medical standards and guidelines have been composed and approved by Board-certified Ob/Gyn Physicians as part of the carafem medical committee. carafem is a member in good standing of the National Abortion Federation. Still have questions? Check out our FAQ page, or call us at (855) SAY-CARA, or find a location near you.