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An abortion is a method to end a pregnancy. If you decide that this is the right option for you, you’re probably wondering about what to expect, especially when it comes to pain level.

Your experience with pain level and its duration after an abortion will be completely unique. No one else can tell you exactly how you’ll feel — and definitely not how you should feel. That’s up for you to decide.

Still, the following information might help you feel more comfortable and prepared.

Abortion experiences vary a lot. Some women experience pain. Others report a little discomfort or a feeling similar to period cramps.

Many factors can impact how much it hurts, like:

  • overall health
  • underlying medical conditions
  • how far along you are in your pregnancy
  • pain tolerance
  • emotions and stressors

The type of abortion will also impact how it feels. The most common options include:

  • the abortion pill
  • vacuum aspiration
  • dilation and evacuation

Need someone to talk to?

If you have concerns about your experience, discuss them with someone you can trust. For answers to medical questions, speak with your doctor.

The representatives at your local Planned Parenthood health center are also available to talk. A certified therapist is another solid option.

You might also want to consider calling the All-Options Talkline. Planned Parenthood recommends the free, confidential, and non-judgmental service to those who are considering abortion.

The abortion pill (aka medication abortion) involves taking two pills: mifepristone and then, misoprostol, within a period of 48 hours max.

The medicine causes cramps and bleeding as a way to empty the uterus. For most, it’ll feel like a super heavy period with cramps. It’s also sometimes compared to an early miscarriage.

Most women will finish passing the tissue within 4 to 5 hours, but sometimes, it takes several more. Either way, plan on taking it easy for the day.

The abortion pill works about 94 to 98 out of 100 times for those who are 8 weeks pregnant or less. By 10 to 11 weeks, it works about 87 out of 100 times.

Beyond that time frame, an in-office, surgical procedure may be recommended.

Other abortion pill side effects

Other possible side effects of the abortion pill include:

  • mild to severe cramping
  • headache
  • breast tenderness
  • upset stomach
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • low-grade fever
  • chills
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • fatigue

If you experience any of these issues for more than 24 hours after taking an abortion pill, call your doctor right away.

You should also call your doctor if you experience a lack of bleeding within 24 hours of taking the second pill, soak through more than 2 maxi pads in an hour, or pass clots bigger than a lemon for more than 2 hours.

These complications are rare but could signal an infection.

Vacuum aspiration is the most common type of surgical, in-clinic abortion. It involves using a gentle suction to remove pregnancy tissue.

It’s typically recommended for women who are pregnant up to 13 weeks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). This procedure works more than 99 out of every 100 times.

Before the procedure, the doctor will numb the cervix. In rare cases a general anesthetic is prescribed. Since the cervix is numb, it shouldn’t cause pain. Instead, you might feel a pulling sensation. The whole process takes about 5 to 10 minutes.

Some women also experience moderate cramps for 1 to 2 days after vacuum aspiration. Others have spot bleeding for up to 2 weeks. While your experience will vary, plan on getting plenty of rest right after the procedure.

Most women can resume regular activities within 24 hours after a vacuum aspiration abortion.

Other vacuum aspiration side effects

Other possible side effects of vacuum aspiration abortion include:

In more severe cases, you may have complication side effects including:

  • heavy bleeding (defined as soaking two maxi pads per hour for 2 hours)
  • stomach pain or cramps that don’t improve with medication
  • fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C)

If you experience any of these side effects, call your doc right away. These symptoms sometimes signal an infection.

Dilation and evacuation is another type of surgical, in-office abortion.

Doctors usually recommend it over the abortion pill or vacuum aspiration when a person has been pregnant for more than 13 weeks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Like vacuum aspiration, this procedure works more than 99 out of every 100 times.

A medical professional will put you to sleep during a dilation and evacuation. The use of general anesthetic means you won’t feel any pain during the procedure.

The process involves using thin rods called dilators to stretch open the cervix. The doctor will then use a forceps and gentle suction to remove the pregnancy tissue.

Afterward, you may experience cramping for 1 to 2 days. Spot bleeding can also last for up to 2 weeks. Most people recovering from a dilation and evacuation procedure can resume regular activities within a few days.

Other dilation and evacuation side effects

Like with a vacuum aspiration procedure, other side effects of a dilation and evacuation abortion might include:

In more severe cases, you may have complication side effects including:

  • heavy bleeding (defined as soaking two maxi pads per hour for 2 hours)
  • stomach pain or cramps that don’t improve with medication
  • fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C)

If you experience any of these side effects, call your doc right away. These symptoms sometimes signal an infection.

Both the pill and in-office abortions are usually very safe, effective, and cause minimal pain. A large-scale study completed in 2012 found that legal induced abortion has a lower mortality rate than childbirth.

Though it is a low-risk procedure, sometimes, complications do happen. Here’s what to know about both types of abortions:

Abortion pill

About 3 in 100 abortion pill procedures are considered “incomplete,” which means the procedure might need to be repeated. Sometimes, that means you’ll need to take the pills again. Other times, a doctor has to do a surgical abortion to finish the procedure.

If you’re unaware the abortion pill procedure was incomplete, you can also have an unwanted pregnancy.

Surgical abortions

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, surgical abortions are even more reliable than the abortion pill. Fewer than 1 in 1,000 women will experience complications during a second trimester abortion.

Still, complications that can happen during a surgical abortion include:

  • pregnancy tissue remains
  • heavy bleeding
  • infection
  • injury to the cervix, uterus, or organs

Will abortion hurt your fertility?

If you have an abortion without complications it shouldn’t affect your fertility. You can still get pregnant after an abortion.

If you feel pain or discomfort after your abortion, there are steps you can take. Planned Parenthood recommends the following:

  • Take over-the-counter pain meds like ibuprofen to ease pain. Stay away from aspirin, which can worsen bleeding.
  • Place a hot water bottle or heating pad on your stomach for relief from cramps.
  • Take a warm shower.
  • Ask someone to gently give you a back massage for a little R&R.

If you’re still feeling crummy after a couple days, call your doc or nurse.

You might experience any range of emotions after an abortion. All of them are valid. Some people experience relief; others feel sadness and grief. Sometimes, it’s a bit of both.

These complex emotions are totally normal. Talking with people you love is one way to process your feelings. You might also consider writing in a journal.

If your feelings prevent you from getting back to your day-to-day life, though, it’s time to chat with an expert. Reach out to your doctor, nurse, or a therapist for help.

Planned Parenthood also recommends calling Exhale or All-Options for free, non-judgmental and confidential post-abortion support.

Whether you’ve already had an abortion or are considering one, you deserve personalized support and vital information every step of the way.

Since abortion laws vary depending on where you live, reach out as soon as possible. Speaking with a medical provider like an OB/GYN is an ideal first step in the process. If you’re struggling to get an appointment, ask for a referral.

If you’re in the U.S., you may want to search for the closest Planned Parenthood or call 1-800-230-PLAN. You can also search for a National Abortion Federation member provider or call 1-877-257-0012.