Having sex after childbirth
There are no rules about when to start having sex again after you've given birth. Immediately after the baby is born, many women feel sore as well as tired. Don’t rush into it. If sex hurts, it won’t be pleasurable. The first time, you may want to use a lubricating jelly (available from pharmacies) because hormone changes can make your vagina feel drier than usual.
You may be worried about the state of your body or about getting pregnant again. Men can have problems too. Apart from tiredness, a father’s sexual feelings will probably be much the same as before his baby’s birth. But many men worry about what’s right for their partner. They're unsure what to do and they feel worried and frustrated.
It might be some time before you want to have sex. Until then, both of you may feel happier being loving and close in other ways.
If you or your partner have any worries, talk about them together. If you need some help, talk with your GP or health visitor.
The following suggestions may help:
- If penetration hurts, say so. It’s not pleasant to have sex if it causes pain. If you pretend everything's all right when it isn’t, you may start to see sex as a nuisance or unpleasant rather than a pleasure, which won’t help either of you. You can still give each other pleasure without penetration (for example by mutual masturbation).
- Be careful the first few times you have sex. Explore with your own fingers first to reassure yourself that it won’t hurt. Use plenty of extra lubrication, such as lubricating jelly. Hormonal changes after childbirth may mean that you won't be as lubricated as usual.
- Make time to relax together. There’s little point trying to make love when your minds are on other things and not on each other.
- Take your time. If you still experience pain two months or so after the birth, talk to your GP or family planning clinic. You can get treatment for a painful episiotomy scar. Ask to see an obstetric physiotherapist.
You can get pregnant as little as three weeks after the birth of a baby, even if you’re breastfeeding and your periods haven’t started again.
Contraception and breastfeeding
Women who are exclusively breastfeeding will not have periods, and this "lactational amenorrhoea" is used by some as a form of contraception. However, this does not last.
The combined contraceptive pill can reduce your flow of milk so it may be best to use another type of contraception. The progestogen-only pill does not affect your milk flow, but a small and harmless amount of progestogen will pass to your baby in the milk.
Contraception after childbirth
Unless you want to get pregnant again, use some kind of contraception every time you have sex after giving birth, including the first time. You’ll usually have an opportunity to discuss the options before you leave hospital after your child’s birth and at the postnatal check. But you can also talk to your GP or health visitor or go to a family planning clinic at any time.
Find out what to consider when you're deciding which contraceptive method is right for you. It can be helpful to find out about all 15 methods of contraception available.
Sexual health charities Brook and FPA have developed an interactive tool that can help you find out which methods of contraception may be best for you. The tool asks questions about your health, lifestyle and contraceptive preferences. All the answers you give are completely confidential and cannot be linked back to you. The tool is available on both charities' websites:
For one-to-one advice, go to your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. To find your nearest clinic, search for sexual health services near you.
Sexually transmitted infections
The number of people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is increasing. Up to 70% of women and 50% of men with an STI have no symptoms, so you may have one without realising.
Many STIs can affect your baby’s health during pregnancy and after the birth.
If you think you or your partner could have an STI that wasn’t diagnosed before pregnancy, go for a check-up as soon as you can.
Ask your GP or midwife or, if you prefer, go to a GUM or sexual health clinic, where you'll be guaranteed strict confidentiality.
Search for sexual health services near you, or check in the phone book under the name of your clinical commissioning group. You can also call the Sexual Health Helpline free on 0300 123 7123.
HIV and AIDS
Since 1999, HIV tests have been offered and recommended to every pregnant woman. As a result, there has been a dramatic fall in the percentage of HIV positive women giving birth to HIV positive babies (from 20% in 1997 to less than 2%).
Treatment in accordance with the latest British HIV Association (BHIVA) guidelines will give the best result for mothers with HIV and their babies.
If you’re HIV positive, talk to your GP about your own health and the options open to you. There are ways of substantially reducing the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby during pregnancy and after birth.
You should be offered a confidential HIV test as part of your routine antenatal care. Before the test, your doctor or midwife will discuss it with you. If the result is positive, counselling will be offered to help you understand the implications. You can also go to a GUM clinic for an HIV test and advice.