Taking the abortion pill is an experience that is both deeply personal and entirely unique to each woman.
It’s also common.
Around 73 million induced abortions take place worldwide each year.
And according to the Guttmacher Institute, as of 2022, over half of all abortions in the US involve abortion pills.
All the more reason to talk about abortion aftercare.
Like every other form of healthcare, it’s important to know what to expect after an abortion, including possible side effects like smelly discharge.
Infections and complications can happen, but knowing the symptoms to watch out for can get you the help you need in good time.
Your physical and emotional well-being matter. 💛
So, let’s dive into the possible causes and treatments for smelly discharge after abortion pill.
In this article: 📝
- What is the abortion pill?
- What causes smelly discharge after abortion pill?
- How do you treat smelly discharge after an abortion?
- What are the signs and symptoms of infection after abortion?
- What are normal side effects of abortion pill?
- Tips for after abortion care
What is the abortion pill?
Before we dive into the details of the abortion pill, it’s worth looking at what a medical abortion entails.
In the simplest terms, medication abortion involves taking medication to terminate a pregnancy.
These pills work by stopping the pregnancy from developing and causing the uterus to empty itself, ending the pregnancy.
The abortion pill—or medical abortion—refers to two main medicines usually given up to week 10 gestation:
- Mifepristone: This is usually the first pill you take. It works by blocking the production of progesterone in your body which is essential for preparing the uterus to support pregnancy
- Misoprostol: Taken up to 48 hours after mifepristone, this pill gets things moving. It basically causes the uterus to contract and empty, resulting in what can feel like a heavy period (cramps included)
The abortion pill is a safe and effective way to end an early pregnancy, but it can have some unpleasant side effects.
More on this below. 👇
What causes smelly discharge after abortion pill?
One of the most common side effects after taking the abortion pill is a change in vaginal odor which can range from mild to strong.
As your body sheds the uterine lining and any remaining pregnancy tissue, it’s natural to experience some changes in your discharge.
But, a foul-smelling discharge may be a sign of something else.
Let’s look at the possible causes one by one:
1. Retained products of conception (RPOC)
As cold as it sounds, retained products of conception (RPOC) are basically small parts of the pregnancy tissue that remain in the uterus after an abortion.
As this retained tissue starts to decompose, it can result in a distinctive unpleasant odor.
This can lead to cramping and bleeding alongside some foul-smelling discharge.
If you do experience heavy bleeding or severe cramping after an abortion, don’t brush it off as the norm—contact your medical provider immediately.
The biggest concern after an abortion and one of the most common causes of smelly discharge.
Infection after an abortion is down to bacteria finding their way into the uterus during or after the procedure.
Aside from foul-smelling discharge, other symptoms to watch out for include pain in your lower abdomen, fever, and burning sensations when you pee.
3. Hormonal changes
Your body goes through pretty significant hormonal shifts as it adjusts back to its non-pregnant state.
And it’s mainly down to the pregnancy hormone progesterone.
In the early stages of pregnancy, your body produces progesterone to support and thicken the uterine lining.
But once Mifepristone steps in, estrogen and progesterone decrease, and this sudden drop can tip the balance in your vaginal pH levels and natural flora.
And these changes can result in foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
4. Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Speaking of imbalances in bacteria, if your discharge has an unpleasant fishy odor, it could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis.
It’s important to stress, though, that this type of infection is not directly caused by the abortion pill.
Really, BV is a matter of your natural bacteria being out of whack—something that may happen post-procedure.
At least half of women with BV don’t actually experience symptoms, but if your discharge also appears thin and grayish-white, it’s a good indication.
5. Change in vaginal pH
We’ve mentioned vaginal pH above, but it’s worth reiterating the role it plays in smelly discharge.
Your vaginal environment is naturally acidic, and you want it to be to help keep infections at bay.
But factors like vaginal douching, aging, sexual activity, and yes the disruption caused by the abortion pill can alter this pH balance.
And basically, a less acidic vaginal environment is more likely to grow odor-causing bacteria.
It’s easy (and understandable) to feel overwhelmed by information as you move through recovery, but it’s worth keeping in mind that out of the estimated one million abortions performed each year in the US, only 2% result in complications.
As uncomfortable as it may be, your discharge is a powerful signal that you may need a little more aftercare.
We go through some of the possible treatments below but don’t hesitate to call your healthcare provider for that all-important check-in.
How do you treat smelly discharge after an abortion?
As we mentioned (a lot), if you do notice a persistent and foul odor from your vaginal discharge, medical advice is a must. 🩺
Here are some of the possible treatments your healthcare provider might recommend:
- Imaging studies: In some cases, your doctor may want to check for retained pregnancy tissue in the uterus. This can be done either through ultrasound or hysteroscopy (where they insert a thin, lighted telescope into your uterus and take images).
- Dilation and curettage (D&C): Another unpleasant sounding term, this is essentially a surgical intervention to remove any remaining pregnancy tissue—that RPOC we talked about earlier.
- Antibiotics: This is almost always the port of call when treating any bacterial infection.
What are the signs and symptoms of infection after abortion?
So, in some cases, smelly discharge can be a sign of an imbalance, and it makes sense with the procedure your body’s been through.
Still, it’s important to keep an eye out for other potential red flags that may signal infection:
- Fever and chills: Usually the most recognizable sign something is seriously ‘off’, a persistent fever that lasts more than 24 hours might indicate an infection.
- Heavy bleeding: Yes, a little bleeding is to be expected, but soaking two or more pads in an hour is as red a flag as you can get.
- Severe pain: Some cramping is also normal, but if pain persists or is very severe, it’s essential to get checked out.
- Discolored discharge: It’s not just the smell you need to watch out for, green or yellow discharge can also be a sign of an infection.
- Severe back or abdominal pain: Cramping is one thing, but being crippled with severe pain is quite another. No need to tolerate it, just phone in that appointment with your doctor.
What are normal side effects of abortion pill?
An essential part of abortion after-care is knowing what to expect—not just the risks and red flags.
After all, your body goes through several key changes with the abortion pill, and it’s natural to feel the impact.
Here’s some normal side effects to expect and nurture yourself through:
- Bleeding and spotting: This can last for several weeks as the uterus sheds its lining, but remember, soaking through a pad within an hour is not the norm.
- Cramping: Mild to moderate cramping similar to period pains is also to be expected.
- Tiredness: Your body has been through a lot—emotionally and physically—so it’s natural to feel a bit more tired than usual.
- Vomiting or diarrhea: Not ideal, but nausea, dizziness, and headaches are all part of the abortion pill roster of side effects. Anything beyond 24 hours, though, should be flagged with your doctor.
- Breast tenderness or swelling: This can last up to two weeks after the procedure.
- Mood swings: Hormonal changes could lead to mood swings no different from PMS. But it’s also natural to feel down or upset following the procedure, no matter the road that led you there. Make space for it.
Tips for after abortion care
Between the physical changes and emotional waves, self-care is key for your recovery after abortion.
And that includes practicing compassion for the range of emotions that surface for you.
Not everyone approaches abortion from the same angle or circumstance. Whether you had support, the ability to make an easy, informed decision, or struggled to follow through, how you feel can look different.
Relief, sadness, guilt, anger—all or any of these emotions are valid. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to recognize them and feel them.
And don’t hesitate to get the support you need, whether through an abortion support group on Peanut), from trusted loved ones, or speaking to a mental health professional.
How do you prevent infection after medical abortion?
The other important half of self-care after an abortion: taking steps to prevent infection.
Here are some of the things you can do to ensure a smooth recovery:
- Follow medical advice: Sure, it’s a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Your healthcare provider will give specific instructions on post-abortion care depending on your unique circumstances. Stick to them.
- Avoid sexual intercourse: During recovery time, you’re at greater risk of infection or contracting an STI so it’s generally advised to avoid sexual activity until you have healed fully. This can take around one to two weeks but listen to your body.
- No douches or harsh soaps: As uncomfortable as smelly discharge can be, messing with your vaginal pH levels and natural bacteria will only make it worse.
- Change sanitary pads or tampons regularly: Yes, it’s absolutely fine to use tampons immediately after a medical abortion. Just make sure you change them regularly to prevent infection.
- Keep strenuous activity to a minimum: That includes exercise. It may be a welcome outlet, but it could cause more bleeding or cramping. Best to take it easy for the first week.
- Stay clean: Do shower daily and keep the vaginal area clean but keep in mind your vagina is self-cleaning, so avoid internal washes—no matter how your discharge smells.
It can be daunting to experience unexpected side effects but think of it as your body simply communicating its needs and concerns.
And smelly discharge is one of its better signals for securing the aftercare it needs.
You’re not alone in this, and nothing affirms this quite like staying informed, finding support in safe spaces like Peanut, and seeking out medical advice.
Your health and well-being matter, and you deserve care, understanding, and empathy every step of the way.
We’ve got you.