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How The Abortion Pill Really Works

Abortion pill, medical abortion, RU-486… You’ve probably encountered these words before, especially if you’ve ever considered ending a pregnancy. Maybe you typed them in Google and found basic answers on how to use it, up to what week of pregnancy and what side effects to expect. But would you like to dig deeper and truly understand the ins and outs of the abortion pill? If so, you first need to know the story of your body. Hang in there because we promise you, it’s captivating.

You Are Your Hormones

Your body is complex, coordinated and resilient… and it is composed of about 30 trillion cells. Yes, trillions. Since all these cells must communicate for your body to function properly, you are equipped with two great communication systems: the nervous system, and the endocrine system. The nervous system is like a high-speed rail network whereas your endocrine system (in other words, your hormones) is like a canal network because it is a little slower. * The abortion pill acts upon your hormones, so with this in mind, here’s how hormones work:

  • Different glands in your body (your hypothalamus, your thyroid, your ovaries…) produce different hormones;
  • Hormones travel through your bloodstream to deliver instructions to specific cells located in other parts of the body;
  • Once they arrive at destination, hormones are received by hormones receptors, which act as the “eyes” and “ears” of a cell;
  • If both the right kind of hormone and hormone receptor are present, the two bind together, the instruction is delivered and a particular activity can start in the cell.

While slower, your hormones are just as important as your nervous system! These little chemical messengers control a wide range of bodily functions and also affect your mood and your thoughts. Your reproductive system, for instance, is regulated by hormones.

Menstrual Cycle

The Story of Your Menstrual Cycle

Why do you have your periods every month or so? Because biologically speaking, your body is programmed to reproduce. This means that, except for special situations such as breastfeeding, illness or food scarcity, your body prepares for a potential pregnancy every cycle.

Ovulation is the main event and corresponds to the release of one (or more) egg(s) by your ovaries. Sperm can then fertilize that egg if you have sex. Since each woman is different, it is good to remember that cycles can last anywhere from 21 to 40 days and that ovulation can happen on any day too, not just on day 14.

So how does the cycle work precisely? Well, several hormones are involved and you can memorize the entire process (only if you want to!) with this short acronym: FELOP: **

  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone
  • Estrogen
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Ovulation
  • Progesterone

To start with, you have 15 to 20 eggs that begin to mature in your ovaries under the influence of Follicle Stimulating Hormone. Each egg is contained in a follicle, which in turn produces estrogen. When estrogen reaches a peak level, it triggers an abrupt surge of luteinizing hormone, which causes ovulation.

After all this is done, the body can relax, take a seat back and wait to see whether the egg(s) released will get to meet sperm or not. In the meantime, the follicle that enclosed the egg transforms into what is called corpus luteum or “yellow body”. It will stay alive for about 12 to 16 days (unless pregnancy occurs) to release progesterone.



What Does Progesterone Do?

So what is this progesterone for? Along with estrogen, progesterone is one of the most popular female hormones. Although it is also present in men to help with sperm production, as a woman you have more of it especially after ovulation and during pregnancy. If fact, it is vital for pregnancy, so the abortion pill works by being an obstacle to it.

  • After ovulation:

 The progesterone produced by the corpus luteum preps the uterine lining (or endometrium) for the implantation of the embryo, which happens about a week after fertilization.

  • During pregnancy:

If fertilization happens, the corpus luteum doesn’t disintegrate and continues to produce progesterone until the placenta forms and takes over. The progesterone prevents the release of other eggs, which protects you against multiple pregnancies. And it also protects the brand new life growing inside you. It prompts the endometrium to provide nutrients and oxygen to the developing baby, and it allows the uterus to grow without having contractions, meaning, without expelling the embryo.

You guessed it. This natural mechanism is exactly what the abortion pill interferes with.

Abortion Pill

Here Comes The Abortion Pill

The term “abortion pill” can be a bit misleading because it actually consists of two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol:

  • Mifepristone (also called RU-486 or Mifeprex, the brand name) was developed in France in the 1980s. The FDA later approved it for use in the US in 2000. This first pill blocks the hormone progesterone. Think of mifepristone as a hacker. It comes in disguise and deceives the progesterone receptors in order to bind to them instead of the real progesterone. As a consequence, no chemical reaction can occur and the lining of the uterus, to which the developing baby was attached, breaks down. Most of the time, you will read that “mifepristone stops the pregnancy from growing”. But what it means exactly is that the little human growing inside you is deprived from oxygen and nutrients, and dies as a result. Growth stops because life stops.
  • The second pill, misoprostol, induces uterine contractions, resulting in the expulsion of the embryo.

The entire process lasts only a few days but some severe complications can arise, such as heavy bleeding.

But did you know that the effects of the abortion pill can be reversed? If you have taken the first pill mifepristone and would like to continue your pregnancy, there is hope! Reversing an abortion is a safe but time sensitive method. There is absolutely no fear or shame to change your mind during an abortion. If you happen to be in this situation, Lifeline is here to help you. You can read more about the abortion pill reversal protocol and what to expect at our clinic.


* The Truth About Hormones, Vivienne Parry, 2009.




** Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler, 2015.




Can I get pregnant during my period?

But it’s my period…

You may have heard something like it’s impossible to get pregnant on your period. It’s sort of true, sort of not. It’s extremely unlikely for conception to occur during the menstrual period. However, that doesn’t mean that having sex during your period won’t result in pregnancy.

Wait, what?  Yes, it is indeed possible to get pregnant from sex occurring during a period.

Two factors play into this:

  1. Sperm can survive up to five days inside the female reproductive tract.
  2. Ovulation does not always occur on Day 14, as legend tells it.

How the Cycle Works

The Textbook Woman has a 28-day cycle. Once a month, one of the ovaries in a woman’s body releases an egg.  Sperm could fertilize that egg as a result of sex and cause a pregnancy. This process, called ovulation, typically happens around day 14 for the Textbook Woman. However, not everybody is a Textbook Woman. Ovulation can happen on different days for different women, and even the same woman can have very different cycle lengths. Multiple factors contribute to the ovary releasing an egg earlier or later than usual, including stress, changes in diet or exercise, and travel. So if you either have consistently shorter cycles or just a random short cycle, that means you would ovulate significantly earlier than Day 14.

If a woman is having a shorter or longer cycle than normal, the difference is going to be in the days between when her last period ends and when one of the ovaries releases an egg. The time between the day the egg is released and the start of her next period is going to stay the same.

For example…

Let’s say our fictitious friend Martha had a 22-day cycle. Remember that the time between the day an ovary releases the egg and the first day of the next period generally remains the same from period to period (12-16 days depending on the woman). Therefore, the difference in cycle lengths comes from the days in between the period and ovulation. For Martha’s shorter cycle, that means she could have ovulated as early as Day 6. Because sperm can survive up to five days inside the female reproductive system, Martha could get pregnant from sex she had during her period.

The more you know

It’s important to be aware of the way your body works in order to achieve or avoid pregnancy. There are a lot of misconceptions (pun intended) about how the female reproductive system works, so do all you can to learn the truth from the myths.

If you think you may be pregnant, know that you don’t have to settle for a lack of information about your body. To learn more about pregnancy and get the resources you need, including a pregnancy test or ultrasound, click here for more info or call Lifeline Pregnancy Help Clinic in Kirksville, MO at 660-665-5688. All our confidential services are offered at no cost.

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10 Early Pregnancy Symptoms

Interesting things happening in your body? Maybe you find yourself exhausted, nauseous, or more emotional than usual. And oh yeah, it’s been awhile since you’ve had a period. These clues start swimming around in your mind and you wonder, are these pregnancy symptoms??  

Now let’s be clear: the only way to be certain a woman is pregnant is through a pregnancy test. But if you are pregnant, you may experience a variety of bodily changes, even as early as a week after conception. Every woman is different. Your symptoms could be very different from your best friend’s or your sister’s or even from your own previous pregnancies. Just because you don’t have morning sickness or that famous pregnancy glow, doesn’t mean the possibility of pregnancy is out the window. You may not ever have these pregnancy symptoms, or they could crop up later on.

That being said, there are a variety of changes you are likely to undergo during the early stages of pregnancy. 

10 Common Pregnancy Symptoms:


Spotting and cramping

After conception (when the sperm meets the egg), the fertilized egg implants into the wall of the uterus. The uterus is where the baby grows and lives for nine months. When the egg attaches to the uterus, there could be some slight cramping or spotting, known as implantation bleeding. This happens 6-12 days after conception. If bleeding occurs it should be very light and could last a couple days. This bleeding should be lighter and shorter than a normal period.

Missed Period

Once the fertilized egg implants, the body will begin releasing a hormone known HCG. HCG is what urine pregnancy tests are looking for. This hormone tells the ovaries to stop releasing eggs. HCG also tells the body to stop shedding the lining of the uterus (which means no periods). That lining instead turns into a cozy environment for a baby to develop.

Nausea (Morning Sickness)

According to the American Pregnancy Association, 25% of women report nausea as their earliest pregnancy symptom. Though commonly referred to as “morning sickness,” this can happen at any time of the day. Whatever causes this unpleasant symptom hasn’t been found, but it’s likely the body’s reaction to the change in hormones.

Breast Changes

Also as a result of rapid hormone changes, the breasts may feel swollen, sore, or tingly a couple weeks after conception. They may even feel fuller, and the area around the nipples (the areola) might darken.

Increased heart rate

The heart begins to pump faster during pregnancy due to the rise in hormones. Palpitations and changes in heart rhythm are common because of this. As always, talk to your doctor about what is normal during pregnancy and report any chest pain or other changes in your heart rate.


Because of the hormonal changes as well as a drop in blood sugar, blood pressure, and increased blood production, the body might feel more exhausted than normal. This can happen even as early as a week after conception.

Mood Swings

You may feel more emotional than usual during pregnancy. Those good ol’ hormonal changes could cause feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability, or intense excitement.

Skin changes

The pregnancy glow you hear about is caused by a combination of increased blood volume and higher hormone levels pushing more blood through the vessels. This causes the skin to produce more oil than usual, creating a natural gloss and blush. However, this increase in oil could also lead to more acne than you may typically experience.

Frequent urination and incontinence

During pregnancy, the body boosts the amount of blood it pumps. This leads to the kidneys processing more fluid than usual, which in turn causes a fuller bladder.

Food cravings/aversions

Your developing baby needs lots of nutrients, some of which you may not normally eat. Your body will start to crave foods you don’t often find appealing so that you and baby will get all the right nutrients you both need. Some women report a new aversion to certain tastes or smells, which–you guessed it–is due to change in hormones. These aversions should go away around week 13 or 14.


How do I know for sure?

Remember, you could experience all of these pregnancy symptoms or only a couple. Always talk to your doctor about any symptoms that interfere with your everyday life. He or she can help you form a plan to ease these more uncomfortable changes.

Taking a pregnancy test is the first step in confirming a pregnancy. Lifeline Pregnancy Help Clinic offers confidential, no-cost pregnancy tests, as well as a variety of other resources to help you figure out your next steps if the test is positive. Pregnancy brings a lot of changes, physical and otherwise, but you don’t have to walk through it alone. Call Lifeline at 660-665-5688 or click here to request an appointment.

Make an Appointment


WebMD  http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/pregnancy-am-i-pregnant#1
Healthline http://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/early-symptoms-timeline#implantation-bleeding
American Pregnancy Association  http://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/early-pregnancy-symptoms/
What to Expect  http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-health/early-symptoms-of-pregnancy

Why is my Period Late?

Sometimes it feels like our bodies play tricks on us, especially when it comes to our cycles. Periods don’t ever seem to come when we want them to, do they? Whether you’re trying to conceive, trying to avoid pregnancy, or indifferent about the whole thing, when your period doesn’t arrive “on time,” often the first thought that comes to mind is…Am I pregnant??

If you really are pregnant, a missed period would be right on target. At Lifeline we offer confidential pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling, and more at no cost. We’d love to talk with you!

However, there are plenty of other reasons your period could be late. Consider the following possible issues that may or may not be affecting your cycles:

  • Stress.

    Life is real, and there will be stressors along the way. Because stress can put our bodies into “fight or flight” mode, releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to help your body determine what functions are necessary, your menstrual cycle could be put on the back burner. The heart and lungs often receive the most attention during stress (which is why you may feel your heart race and your breathing quicken). This can lead to changes in the menstrual cycle, such as a late period. Even positive life changes like getting married, moving, a new job schedule, and travel have been known to cause delayed periods.

  • Weight loss or gain.

    Women who are either underweight or overweight may experience irregular cycles. Again, this has to do with the body’s survival mode. If a woman does not have enough body fat or exercises excessively and doesn’t take in enough calories, her body may not feel like it’s able to carry a baby. The same goes for women who are overweight; the body may even produce too much estrogen, causing a hormonal overload that prevents ovulation and causes the uterine lining to overgrow. When a period eventually arrives, it may be heavier than usual.

  • Illness.

    If you were sick around the time when ovulation was supposed to occur, your body also may have focused on survival and ignored the menstrual cycle. When the body is busy fighting off infection, normal processes like a period might not happen.

  • Hormonal issues.

    Irregular periods could be a sign of thyroid issues, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), or other chronic illnesses. If you’re experiencing any other symptoms like weight loss or gain, change in energy levels, hair growth, or appetite, talk with your doctor as soon as possible to address any underlying issues.

  • Medication.

    If you’ve recently gone off hormonal birth control and have missed a period, don’t fret. It often takes a few months for the cycle to return to normal. Likewise, if you’ve recently started hormonal birth control, it can take time for your cycles to become regular. Emergency contraception similarly may affect ovulation, and in turn when your period comes (or doesn’t). Other medications, such as some antidepressants, antipsychotics, and chemotherapy drugs may influence the cycle.

  • Perimenopause.

    The average age of menopause is 52, but some younger women may have symptoms similar to those occurring during menopause, including irregular cycles, hot flashes, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping, as early as 10 to 15 years before menopause actually happens. This is known as perimenopause. What this means is that the supply of eggs is dwindling down, and causing a decrease in ovulation and irregular periods.

One or several of these could be causing changes in your cycles. A missed period once in a while is normal and not a cause for concern. However, whether you could be pregnant or not, it’s important to talk to your doctor about any bodily changes to ensure that you’re getting the best care possible.


Having said all this, a late period could also mean pregnancy!   

If you think you could be pregnant, Lifeline is here to help. We offer confidential, no-cost pregnancy tests. Call 660-665-5688 for more information about our services, or make an appointment online.

Make an Appointment

by Kathryn Farmer
Resources: Healthline, Medical News Today, and What to Expect When You’re Expecting.


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