If you’ve just taken home a new baby, you probably haven’t thought much about sex. In between wiping baby spit-up out of your hair, changing diapers, and struggling to stay awake for feedings, it can be hard to feel sexy. Eventually, though, you may want to feel sexual pleasure or reconnect with your partner. So, how long do you need to wait to have sex after pregnancy and birth?
Note: Sex after pregnancy can hold different meanings for those who have experienced a miscarriage, abortion, or stillbirth. For the sake of this article, however, we will mostly discuss sex with a partner as it applies to sex after a live birth.
How soon can I have sex after pregnancy and birth?
Most healthcare providers tell people who’ve recently experienced pregnancy and birth to wait six weeks before having intercourse. This is a generic recommendation that’s not based on any physiological or biological facts—the most important considerations are a person’s specific anatomy and how it was impacted by birth. It takes about six weeks for the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size, but this isn’t necessary for sex to be safe. The risk of infection and bleeding are small after about two weeks after birth.
About half of people have sex before the six-week mark, but the appropriate time to have sex after pregnancy is when you are ready—emotionally, and physically.
Emotionally Preparing for Sex After Baby
Emotionally, sex after pregnancy can bring on new feelings, especially for people parenting for the first time. A person’s feelings about sex can be transformed by the journey into parenthood. The fatigue caused by new parenthood often puts sex at the very bottom of a person’s priority list.
For parents who breastfeed/chestfeed, it’s common to feel “touched out,” zapping your desire for physical touch from your partner. Combined with higher levels of the hormone prolactin, this can lead to a lower desire for physical intimacy. If a new parent is experiencing postpartum mood disorder or suffered a traumatic birth, sex and intimacy might trigger dysphoric feelings and can lead a person to avoid it.
Physically Preparing for Sex After Baby
Vaginal penetration after having a baby can feel different, and even uncomfortable the first few times. Anatomical changes of pregnancy and birth might make sex feel unfamiliar.
If you are breastfeeding/chestfeeding, your body produces higher than normal levels of prolactin, and this can mean a lower sex drive and less natural lubrication. Foreplay and vaginal lubricant can help make sex more physically comfortable, so have lubricant on hand the first time you give sex a try after having a baby and go slowly.
You may need to try a few positions to find one that feels right. You can also explore other forms of sexual play that don’t involve penetration.
Does having sex after birth (postpartum sex) hurt?
Sex will be different after pregnancy and birth, at least initially. A review published by faculty at the Institute of Sexology, found that less than 15 percent of couples reported a trouble-free sex life after the birth of a baby. This same review found about half of people who have experienced birth think sex after birth is painful and up to 20 percent are still experiencing some pain with sex one year postpartum. Although not impossible, the pain usually isn’t severe enough to prevent someone from wanting to have sex.
Pain during postpartum sex is usually caused by physiologic changes that happened during pregnancy and birth. Tearing of the skin around the vulva, vagina and anus during birth is the most common reason for pain during sex in the first year postpartum. When tearing is involved, it’s significantly more likely to experience pain during postpartum sex.
What’s orgasm like after having a baby?
Orgasm will probably feel different at first. Orgasm causes the uterus to contract, and that can cause discomfort for some people. It’s unusual to have an orgasm the first time you have postpartum sex, but not impossible (about one in five people do). Most people are back to their usual orgasm pattern by about six months postpartum.
Postpartum sex after a C-section.
Lots of people mistakenly believe that a Caesarean birth or C-section will prevent any postpartum pain during sex. While it’s true that people who have a C-section often report having sex sooner postpartum than those who had a vaginal birth, painful sex after birth can be caused by changes that occurred during pregnancy, not just vaginal birth.
Birth by C-section is also associated with increased pelvic pain, which could impact the comfort and pleasure of sex. There may be some discomfort from healing of the incision, and you should wait until it’s completely healed to have sex. Neither vaginal birth nor C-section are more favorable for postpartum sex; each type of birth has its own path to healing and varies for each person.
Talking to a healthcare provider about postpartum sex and birth control.
It’s best to check in with your healthcare provider before you have sex after birth, especially if you had any prolonged bleeding, tearing during a vaginal birth, or an episiotomy. In the United States, most people will be scheduled for a postpartum follow-up visit at six weeks postpartum. During this visit, your provider will probably ask you about your mood, the health of your baby, sexuality, contraception plans, and your general health. Primarily, you’ll discuss your recovery from pregnancy and birth and you may have a pelvic exam if needed to assess healing. (If you’re having symptoms of depression or anxiety, or think you are not healing as well as you should be, call your provider even if it’s before your first scheduled postpartum appointment.)
In addition to talking to your doctor about postpartum sex, be sure to ask about birth control. It can take months to ovulate after having a baby, but some people ovulate within the first 45 days postpartum. Because you won’t know when you ovulate, you should use a condom or talk to your provider about other birth control methods to prevent pregnancy. According to a meta-analysis in The Journal of the American Medical Association, spacing out pregnancies leads to better outcomes for parents and babies. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends waiting 18 months between pregnancies, and discourages waiting less than six months.
Birth control options are more limited if you are breastfeeding since hormonal birth control with estrogen can reduce milk supply. Other options for use during breastfeeding include the progestin-only pill (POP) or “mini-pill,” the birth control injection (Depo-Provera), the progesterone IUD, the copper IUD, the birth control implant, or the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).
If you are breastfeeding exclusively, meaning your baby is fed on demand day and night and never receives a bottle or other supplemental food, lactational amenorrhea can be used for birth control. Lactational amenorrhea simply means that while lactating, you’ll be amenorrheic, or without ovulation. This method is about 98 percent effective for the first six months of exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding/chestfeeding.
It’s okay if you’re not into having sex soon after giving birth.
Sexual desire happens on a spectrum the first year after the birth of a baby. (And throughout all of life, to be honest.) Some people gradually ease back into sex with their partner. Others are ready quickly and want to make it happen ASAP. Yet, some might want to wait months to a year, or even longer. However you feel about sex after having a baby is okay. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. It’s likely you and your partner will need to talk about it and express your feelings, expectations, and frustrations along the way.