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
The abortion pill (aka medication abortion) involves taking two pills: mifepristone and then, misoprostol, within a period of 48 hours max.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
- injury to the cervix, uterus, or organs
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.
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.