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Postpartum sex: When you can start and what it’s like

Main Line Health August 17, 2021 Women's Health

There are no rules and standards when it comes to postpartum sex.

In general, women should hold off four to six weeks after giving birth to allow their bodies time to heal. Most women get cleared to have sex again around the six-week mark, though some may be advised to abstain from sexual activity for longer depending on their health and recovery.

For some, six weeks can feel too soon. The body goes through a lot of significant changes during pregnancy and childbirth, and it can take some time to feel empowered and comfortable in your new role as a parent.

Listen to your body and go at your own pace. Take baby steps and look to alternative forms of intimacy if you need more time before immediately trying to have sex after giving birth.

When can you start having postpartum sex?

According to Dr. Maria Keating, an OB/GYN at Main Line Health's Riddle Hospital, most women can have sex six weeks after having a baby.

How soon you can start having postpartum sex varies, depending on your medical history and the presence of any birthing complications.

In the four to six weeks after childbirth, women experience lochia, or healing bleeding after birth. Keating does not recommend having sex if you're still bleeding after delivery.

Having sex within the first few weeks of delivery comes with a few health risks:

  • Getting an infection
  • Slowing or impairing healing after birth (especially if you had vaginal stitches that could tear during sex)
  • Causing increased bleeding

"If you have sex and it causes bleeding, then you should discuss this with your doctor," says Keating.

How soon after delivery can I get pregnant?

According to Keating, women can get pregnant before their period returns after childbirth so it's important to be aware of your fertility when having postpartum sex.

Some women choose to go on birth control immediately after giving birth. Others may choose to hold off as their bodies heal during those first six weeks.

Will postpartum sex feel physically different?

Many women find that it takes some time for sex to feel normal again after having a baby due to all the physical changes their body went through during pregnancy and delivery.

Pregnancy and childbirth can also impact sex drive, says Keating, pointing to the many changes that come with childbirth, including physical, hormonal and emotional. Other postpartum challenges that can affect desire to have sex include:

  • Breastfeeding
  • Soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Sleep deprivation

Eventually, sex should start to feel normal again. "With time, and as you adjust to your new life as a mom, your sex drive should return to normal," Keating says. If it doesn't, talk to your doctor.

Will postpartum sex feel emotionally different?

Samantha Hunsicker, LCSW, a psychotherapist with Main Line Health's Women's Emotional Wellness Center, says many women feel intimidated and nervous about having sex soon after having a baby.

"Not everyone feels ready to resume that level of intimacy following childbirth," Hunsicker says.

Childbirth comes in all shapes and forms, and recovery from childbirth looks different from person to person. Trust your body and be gentle with yourself. Take it slow as you get re-acclimated to sexual intimacy after birth.

As you recover from childbirth, prioritize self-care:

  • Hydrate
  • Nourish your body with healthy food
  • Get active

Also get connected with your support system. Together, all of these things can help you feel empowered and comfortable in your new role as a parent.

For those who have a partner, Hunsicker recommends having open, honest conversations about how you're feeling. These conversations can increase emotional intimacy and connection.

"Learning how to ensure that both parties are feeling supported and loved is so valuable," says Hunsicker.

Finding intimacy in alternative ways

Having postpartum sex isn't the only way to foster intimacy in a relationship, and as your body heals, Hunsicker recommends looking to alternative forms of intimacy.

Intellectual intimacy can be nourished by talking deeply and openly about meaningful and emotional topics such as politics, literature, or history. There’s also spiritual intimacy, which can be explored through faith, religion, and shared values.

By doing activities you and your partner enjoy, you can develop experiential intimacy.

You can build physical intimacy not only through sex, but also through hugging and cuddling.

Intellectual intimacy can be nourished by talking deeply and openly about meaningful and emotional topics such as politics, literature, or history. There's also spiritual intimacy, which can be explored through faith, religion, and shared values.

By doing activities you and your partner enjoy, you can develop experiential intimacy. "Try to carve out intentional time to do something — either it's just the two of you or something that you both really enjoy — which can be really helpful, too," Hunsicker says.

Eventually, the time for sex will come and it will feel right. "It's all about a couple's readiness and being able to do it together in a respectful, loving way," says Hunsicker.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. For an appointment with a Main Line Health OB/GYN, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.