Wondering how soon you can have sex after giving birth? Here are some questions you should ask yourself to figure out what’s right for you.
For all sorts of reasons, it might take a while to get back to your old sex life after having a baby. One study found that more than half of couples had started to have sex by eight weeks after birth, and more than three quarters of couples by 12 weeks (McDonald and Brown, 2013). Yet for many couples, it’s closer to 12 months after their baby’s birth that they’re having sex as frequently as before the birth (Jawed-Wessel and Sevick, 2017).
So here are a few questions you could ask yourself to see whether you're ready to make that move...
1. Do I feel emotionally ready for sex?
This is pretty important. The timing is very much up to you. And it is common for new parents to find that tiredness and the responsibility of caring for a new baby mean they have less interest in sex.
A decline in sexual interest after the birth of a baby can be related to the drop in oestrogen that new mums experience (Hendrick et al, 1998). In fact, one study suggests this is a way of ensuring new mums do not become pregnant while caring for a new baby (Lorenz et al, 2019).
2. Am I worried that my partner wants to have sex?
If you aren’t ready but your partner is, reassure them that you’re not pushing them away. This is just a temporary situation while you get your head around the demands of a small human. It can take time for your body to recover from the birth.
Your partner’s moves over to your side of the bed are likely because they still love and fancy you and want you to know it. But you should never feel under pressure to do anything you are not 100% ready for.
It might sound like a cliché but communication and a mutual understanding of each other's needs can help keep a loving relationship alive. You might also want to remind your partner that your focus on your baby doesn’t take away from your love for them. That you’re not pushing them away.
"There’s no right or wrong time to start having sex again after you have had a baby. Don’t rush into it. If sex hurts, it won’t be pleasurable." (NHS, 2018a)
Sex is more likely if you make time to relax together. You’re more likely to make love when your minds are on each other, rather than other things (NHS, 2018b).
3. Am I worried about my body?
If you gave birth, you might be thinking ‘Will it feel different?’ Worries around discomfort or becoming pregnant again are normal.
You might start by gently exploring your vagina to discover whether there is any pain or change (NHS, 2018b). You could then discuss the changes to your body with your partner and how you want to be touched.
Dryness might contribute to sex being painful, and lower oestrogen levels until your periods restart after childbirth are partly to blame (NHS, 2018a). But probably the most important reason for dryness is that you’re exhausted and adapting to your post-birth body, so you’re not sexually aroused enough to produce lubrication. You could use a lubricant and make sure you are fully aroused before sexual activity, and begin with oral or mutual masturbation (NHS, 2018b).
You could also grab a chat with your health visitor or GP to go through your questions about post-baby sex. If you experience any pain, see your GP (NHS, 2018a).
4. Am I rushing into post-baby sex because I’m worried I’ll lose closeness with my partner?
If that’s the case, there are plenty of other ways to maintain that bond. With everything from cuddling up in front of a film to doing anything else you fancy in bed that doesn’t involve penetration.
5. How will the type of birth I had affect sex?
The type of birth you had can affect your feelings about sex (McDonald and Brown, 2013).
If you had an uncomplicated vaginal birth, you might feel tired, bruised or have some grazing that may sting, so you may want to take it gently. Your health visitor will probably check in with you about pain or difficulties around sex about two to six weeks after the birth (NICE, 2021a). If you have had stitches in your perineum after the birth, you may feel anxious about discomfort and perhaps find that sensation is different (NHS, 2020a).
If you had a caesarean section, you can resume sex whenever you feel fully recovered from the birth (NICE, 2021b). If your scar is still sensitive, you could explore positions that don't put pressure on it.
6. Will my tear or cut (episiotomy) affect sex?
Let yourself recover first. Your stitches should dissolve after 10 days and by two weeks you should feel like you’re healing well. But it can take up to a month to heal (NHS, 2020a). For third and fourth degree tears, wait until you’ve stopped bleeding and your tear has healed before having sex again (RCOG, 2015).
With stitching, when you’re ready to have sex again, you’ll want to take things slowly and gently. You could try positions that limit penetration or reduce the pressure on the stitched area. If sex is painful or difficult when you do try, speak to your GP.
7. Will how I am feeding my baby affect sex?
This may seem unrelated but actually, if you’re breastfeeding, hormones can cause vaginal dryness and a dip in libido (Riordan, 2005). See our Breastfeeding and sex article for more details.
Your breasts may be less of an erogenous zone than they used to be and you may find that the oxytocin released during breastfeeding means you crave affection less elsewhere. On the other hand, as our bodies are never simple, you may find that breastfeeding actually increases your arousal levels.
Some women feel ‘all touched out’ by the intensity of being constantly on demand as a parent. This isn’t a reason to stop feeding, but might mean you just don’t feel like having sex.
8. Have I thought about contraception?
Very important information: you can get pregnant soon after the birth of your baby. This can happen even if you are breastfeeding and your periods haven’t reappeared. So make sure you look into your options for contraception and discuss it with your health visitor, midwife, GP or contraception clinic (NHS, 2020b).
9. Am I putting it off as I’m worrying about my baby being in the room?
Such a common one, trust us. Yet your baby won’t understand what’s going on. Your noises are completely familiar to them from their time in your womb and hearing them from outside will not upset them. Plus they won’t care what you’re up to.
Just be careful if your baby is in the bed with you or move them into their cot. You might also want to choose a time when your baby is less likely to interrupt things, like after a feed.
10. Am I ready to talk honestly with my partner?
If sex hurts, say it. If you need your partner to be gentler, say it. If you need extra foreplay, say it. If you need to nip to the chemist and buy some lube, say it. If you just want to chill out in front of the TV, say it. See a GP and say it to them if something doesn’t feel right.
This page was last reviewed in December 2021
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of our NCT New Baby courses helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
Hendrick V, Altshuler LL, Suri R. (1998) Hormonal changes in the postpartum and implications for postpartum depression. Psychosomatics. 39(2):93-101. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0033318298713556 [Accessed 9th December 2021].
Jawed-Wessel S, Sevick E. (2017) The impact of pregnancy and childbirth on sexual behaviors: A systematic review. J Sex Res. 54(4-5):411-423. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224499.2016.1274715 [Accessed 9th December 2021].
Lorenz T, Ramsdell EL, Brock RL. (2019) A close and supportive interparental bond during pregnancy predicts greater decline in sexual activity from pregnancy to postpartum: applying an evolutionary perspective. Front Psychol. 10:2974. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6966960/ [Accessed 9th December 2021].
McDonald EA, Brown SJ. (2013) Does method of birth make a difference to when women resume sex after childbirth? BJOG. 120(7):823-830. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1471-0528.12166/full [Accessed 9th December 2021].
NICE. (2021a) Postnatal care [NG194]. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng194 [Accessed 9th December 2021].
NICE. (2021b) Caesarean birth [NG192]. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng192 [Accessed 9th December 2021].
NHS. (2018a) Vaginal changes after childbirth. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/vagina-health/Pages/vagina-after-childbirth.aspx [Accessed 9th December 2021].
NHS. (2018b) Sex and contraception after birth. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sex-contraception-after-birth/ [Accessed 9th December 2021].
NHS. (2020a) Episiotomy and perineal tears. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/episiotomy-and-perineal-tears/ [Accessed 9th December 2021].
NHS. (2020b) When can I use contraception after having a baby? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/when-contraception-after-baby/ [Accessed 9th December 2021].
Riordan J. (2005) Breastfeeding and human lactation. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishing
RCOG. (2015) A third- or fourth-degree tear during birth (also known as obstetric anal sphincter injury- OASI. Available from: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-third--or-fourth-degree-tear-during-birth.pdf [Accessed 9th December 2021].