If you’re planning to have an abortion (or if you’ve just had one), it’s normal to have questions about what comes next. You can expect some temporary physical effects after this procedure, including some that impact your menstrual cycle.

This is what you need to know about your period after an abortion.

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Edit by Wenzdai Figueroa; photography by PEPINO DE MAR STUDIO/Stocksy

An abortion works by emptying your uterus. This will restart your menstrual cycle.

That means if you used to get your period at the same time of the month, that time is probably going to shift. Your period will come somewhere between 4 and 8 weeks after the procedure. (This depends on how long certain hormones stay in your bloodstream.)

What to expect from your first period after an abortion

You should get your period back within 4 to 8 weeks after an abortion.

When it returns, you may experience stronger PMS symptoms than usual. These symptoms can include:

The changes to your bleeding during this first period will depend on which type of abortion you had:

  • Medical abortion. A medical abortion (aka the “abortion pill” method) involves taking mifepristone (Mifeprex) and misoprostol (Cytotec) medications. After this procedure, you may have a heavier and longer period than you’ve had in the past. You might also see small blood clots.
  • Surgical abortion. A surgical abortion is an outpatient procedure performed by a doctor. You may have a lighter and shorter first period after this type of abortion.

Avoid using any inserted sanitary products (like tampons or cups) for at least 2 weeks after your abortion. Opt for pads instead to give your body time to heal.

What to expect from your second period after an abortion

Regardless of which type of abortion you had, your second period should pretty much return to normal (although it may come at a different time of the month than you were used to before). Future periods should also be back on track. But it’s not unusual to experience irregular periods for a few cycles.

Reach out to your doctor if your period isn’t going back to normal or if it hasn’t come back after 8 weeks. You may be pregnant or experiencing a medical condition.

Both surgical and medical abortions are considered very safe and don’t cause a lot of pain.

You might have some side effects

Bleeding can be uncomfortable, so you might feel generally crummy for a few days. You might also experience some side effects.

For a medical abortion, these side effects include:

After a surgical abortion, you might experience:

You can take over-the-counter pain meds (like ibuprofen) to ease any pain and cramping. Just be sure to avoid aspirin, because it can make bleeding worse. Hot water bottles, heating pads, and warm showers can also help.

You may feel emotional

It’s normal to feel a range of emotions after an abortion. You may experience relief, sadness, or grief. Be kind to yourself as you process these emotions, and reach out to others if you need support.

Abortions aren’t linked to an increased risk of developing mental health issues, but it’s important to get the help you need if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety. Lots of free or inexpensive resources are available.

Rest if you need it

It’s OK to take some time for yourself after an abortion. If you’re able to, you may benefit from taking time off work to recover emotionally and physically.

Don’t feel obligated to explain why you need this time off if you don’t want to or don’t feel safe doing so. Whether you’re taking time away from your work or your social life, you can give a more general excuse. Family and friends can be great resources, as long as they’re supportive of you and your decision.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with certain folks, don’t force it. Research suggests that people who feel judged or stigmatized for their decision to have an abortion experience more emotional distress.

Wait to have sex

Most healthcare professionals recommend waiting about 2 weeks (or until you stop bleeding) before having sex after an abortion. This helps reduce the risk of infection.

Remember: There’s no rush. You and your partner can have sex when you both feel ready.

Maxi pads are best

Most doctors recommend that you use pads (or period underwear) when you’re experiencing post-abortion bleeding. Hold off on inserting anything into your vagina until 2 weeks after your procedure (that includes tampons or menstrual cups).

This helps reduce the risk of infection and allows you to track how much you’re bleeding more easily. That can let you know if anything is wrong.

Post-abortion blood and discharge shouldn’t smell bad (that’s a sign of an infection). It also shouldn’t be so heavy that you go through two maxi pads in an hour. Both of those effects are signs you should call the doc right away.

You can resume birth control immediately after your abortion. In fact, it’s recommended, because you can be fertile within less than 2 weeks after your abortion.

Research suggests 83 percent of people ovulate during their first cycle after an abortion. You will likely start ovulating about 3 weeks after an abortion, but you can ovulate as early as 8 days after the procedure.

If you want an IUD, mention it to your doctor before your abortion appointment. In most cases, they can insert an IUD right after an abortion is performed. That way you won’t need to come back for a separate appointment.

Call your doctor immediately if you have any of these physical symptoms:

  • soaking through two or more pads per hour for 2 hours
  • passing a blood clot bigger than a lemon
  • severe stomach or back pain
  • spiking a fever over 100.4°F (38°C)
  • bleeding or discharge that smells foul
  • yellow or green discharge

You should also call your doctor if you don’t bleed at all within 48 hours of taking an abortion pill. You could still be pregnant, or the abortion may be incomplete.

If you have no period for more than 8 weeks after your abortion, or if your period hasn’t returned to normal within 3 months, give your doc a call. There might be an underlying cause that requires treatment.

If you need emotional support, reach out to a mental health professional for help.

If you’re looking for low cost (or free) support, these groups can help:

Planned Parenthood also offers low cost abortion counseling services, as well as ongoing therapy and counseling services through the C.A.R.E Program.

Understanding what to expect after an abortion can help you take the best care of yourself. Here’s what you need to know about your period after an abortion:

  • Your period may take 4 to 8 weeks to return.
  • When it does come back, it could be heavier (if you had a surgical abortion) or lighter (if you had a medical abortion) than you’re used to. That’s normal.
  • If your period hasn’t returned in 8 weeks, take a pregnancy test or contact your doctor.
  • It’s important to prioritize your emotional recovery as well as physical recovery. There are plenty of free and low cost resources to help you if needed.