Dear Alice,

How much time after one gets pregnant can they feel the side effects (such as morning sickness)? Within how many months of the pregnancy can one get an abortion?

—Worried for a friend

Dear Worried for a friend,

If your friend is concerned that she may be pregnant the only sure way to find out is to get a pregnancy test. However, a woman can sometimes tell she is pregnant in the first few weeks just by monitoring her symptoms. Symptoms that might begin during the first weeks of pregnancy include:

  • Sore breasts
  • Fatigue
  • Spotting (menstrual blood between periods)
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Food cravings
  • Slight fever

Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be associated with other things like having a cold, or stomach virus and that symptoms vary by individual. The only way to know for sure is to get a pregnancy test. Some pregnancy tests can be used as soon as a few days before your friend's next expected period. These tests are even more effective if used once your friend has missed a period. You can buy a home pregnancy test at a drug store or pharmacy (be sure to follow the directions exactly). Columbia students can make an appointment with Medical Services (212-854-2284) on the Morningside Campus, Student Health Services (212-305-3400) on the CUMC Campus, or you can make an appointment with your health care provider if not a student at Columbia.

If your friend is pregnant, she has some options, and some decisions to make. You may find you can be most helpful to her by helping her understand her options and listening to her feelings. First of all, she can either continue the pregnancy or terminate (that is, have an abortion). If she decides to continue the pregnancy, then she can either keep the baby or opt for adoption. For more information about continuing a pregnancy and adoption, check out the Pregnancy Options category in the Go Ask Alice! archives.

If your friend is pregnant, and decides to have an abortion, there are a number of methods that may be available to her, and these depend primarily on how far along she is (how many weeks). The earlier she has an abortion, that safer it is. Most abortions are performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (12 weeks after fertilization). The different types of abortions include:

  • Medical abortion (taking a combination of prescription pills to induce miscarriage) may be done within 49 days.
  • Menstrual aspiration (done by a health care provider using a syringe) may be used 1-3 weeks after the first missed period.
  • Vacuum aspiration (using a suction device to remove contents of the uterus) may be used up to 14 weeks after fertilization.

If your friend had unprotected sex or a condom broke or slipped off during sex within the last few days, she may want to consider emergency contraception, sometimes called the morning after pill or Plan B. Plan B can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex, although it is more effective when taken as soon as possible. Emergency contraception is not an abortion since this pill works to prevent pregnancy from occurring at all.

If your friend is a Columbia student, she can make an appointment with Medical Services (212-854-2284) on the Morningside Campus, Student Health Services (212-305-3400) on the CUMC Campus, or you can make an appointment with her health care provider if not a student at Columbia. The health care provider will be able to help her determine how many weeks pregnant she is and will be able to make a referral for an abortion, if that is what she chooses. 

Whatever your friend chooses, it will be the right decision for her at this time. She is fortunate to have someone like you to support her.


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