Abortions are common in the United States, with an average of 3 out of 10 women in the United States having an abortion by age 45. There are two types: the abortion pill (also known as a medical abortion) and a surgical abortion. Women can take the abortion pill up until they reach 10 weeks of pregnancy. Beyond this time, a surgical abortion remains an option.

Whether you undergo a surgical abortion or take the abortion pill, it’s important to take care of yourself following the procedure. Abortions that take place under the care of a licensed medical professional within a clinic are generally safe procedures with few complications. However, many women will experience some side effects, including abdominal cramps, light vaginal bleeding, nausea, sore breasts, and fatigue.

Many women will experience bleeding after an abortion. During this time period, you may experience days with light to heavy spotting.

It’s also normal to pass blood clots, though passing large clots (the size of a golf ball) for more than two hours is not normal.

Consistent heavy bleeding is defined as going through two or more maxi pads in one hour, or bleeding heavily for 12 hours or more. This may be a sign of complications, and especially so if the blood is bright red after the first 24 hours post-abortion, as compared to a darker red, or if it accompanies a stabbing, persistent pain.

After both types of abortion procedures, it’s typically advised that you wait about two weeks before having sex or inserting anything vaginally. This reduces the risk of infection, and is an important part of post-abortion care.

If you have unprotected sex following an abortion, call your doctor or local clinic and ask what measures you can take to prevent pregnancy.

If you suddenly experience sharp pain during sex after an abortion, call your local clinic for advice. If they believe it’s not an emergency, they may still schedule you for a follow-up.

Normal side effects after an abortion include:

  • abdominal cramps
  • light vaginal bleeding
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sore breasts
  • fatigue

While both medical and surgical abortions are generally considered to be safe, they can sometimes result in serious complications.

One of the most common complications is infection. This can be caused by incomplete abortion or exposure to bacteria vaginally, such as by having sex too soon. You can reduce the risk of infection by waiting to have sex and using pads instead of tampons.

Symptoms of infections include strong-smelling vaginal discharge, fever, and severe pelvic pain. Untreated infections can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, so call your doctor for treatment as soon as you notice symptoms.

Other potential complications that a woman may experience from or after an abortion include:

  • Incomplete or failed abortion, in which the fetus is still viable or was not fully evacuated from the womb. This can cause serious medical complications.
  • Uterine perforation, which has symptoms of severe abdominal pain, bleeding, and fever.
  • Septic shock, which has symptoms that include fever, chills, abdominal pain, and low blood pressure.

Some symptoms can indicate an emergency complication stemming from your abortion. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical care:

  • fever
  • excessively heavy bleeding (as discussed above)
  • strong-smelling vaginal discharge
  • chills
  • severe abdominal pain

After your abortion, your doctor or clinic will provide you with specific after-care instructions. Sometimes this isn’t enough to reduce unpleasant side effects.

To reduce side effects and increase your comfort after an abortion, you can:

  • Use heating pads, which can ease cramps.
  • Stay hydrated, especially if you’re experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Have a support system in place, as some women experience emotional changes from the drastic hormone shift.
  • If possible, plan on staying in for a day or two, so that you can rest and recover in the comfort of your own home.
  • Take medication like ibuprofen to lessen cramps and pain.
  • Massage your abdomen at the site of the cramps.
  • Wear a tight-fitting bra to relieve breast tenderness.

You can get pregnant almost immediately after having an abortion, so you must use contraception right away to avoid pregnancy.

If you don’t start contraception immediately after the abortion, wait to have sex until you’ve completed your first week of the contraceptive or use backup contraception like condoms. If your doctor inserted an IUD, it will start to prevent pregnancy immediately, though you should still wait two weeks to prevent serious infections.

Q:

Is it OK to use a tampon when experiencing light bleeding after an abortion?

A:

Light bleeding is a common occurrence after an abortion. Spotting can last for up to a few weeks. While it may be tempting to use a tampon as you usually do during periods, it’s important to avoid using them in the period immediately following the abortion — a conservative rule of thumb is for the first two weeks. You’ll want to avoid putting anything in the vagina during this time to decrease the risk of developing infection, which in severe cases could lead to life-threatening complications. A safer alternative would be to use a pad.

Euna Chi, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

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