If you’ve just had a baby, sex with your partner might be the furthest thing from your mind. This is because your body just underwent extraordinary changes, and you need time to recover—physically and mentally.
However, many couples have questions about intimacy and intercourse after having a baby, like when it is safe to start having sex again and what to expect after delivery.
Like many things after having a baby, it can take time to bounce back sexually. While people who have a vaginal delivery generally tend to heal faster than those who have a C-section, recovery from a vaginal birth can vary.
Debra Wickman, MD, an OBGYN and sexual medicine specialist with Banner - University Medicine, answered common questions about postpartum sex after vaginal birth and how to maintain intimacy.
How soon after a vaginal birth can you have sex?
There’s no required waiting period for when you can resume your sex life, but most health care providers recommend holding off a bit to allow time for your body to recover.
Recovery from a vaginal birth can vary greatly depending on the person and the birth itself, but it typically takes about four to six weeks postpartum to recover fully. It’s also good to wait until postpartum vaginal bleeding stops to avoid infection.”
“If you have any lacerations, tears or an episiotomy, that trauma needs time to heal,” Dr. Wickman said. “If there is no pain or tenderness, sex can happen sooner. The main thing is to stop if it hurts and then wait a little longer.”
An episiotomy is a minor surgery that widens the opening of the vagina. To ease discomfort while you recover, cool the area with ice packs, or place a chilled witch hazel pad on a sanitary pad between your vaginal opening and anus (perineum). A sitz bath with warm water a few times daily can relieve pain and any itching that sometimes accompanies stitches.
Will sex hurt after vaginal delivery?
“Expect it to be uncomfortable the first few times, but this should diminish or get better with time,” Dr. Wickman said. “Go slow and use a lubricant.”
Your fluctuating hormones can lead to vaginal dryness, making penetrative sex with your partner painful. Hormonal changes from breastfeeding or pumping can also cause vaginal tissue to be thin and dry. Use a water-soluble lubricant during sex to decrease friction. Your health care provider may sometimes prescribe medication.
Talk to your provider if things don’t seem to improve or if you notice unusual changes like vaginal tightness, or if it feels like your partner is “hitting a wall.”
“The pelvic floor (the muscles around your vagina and that support your bladder) can be activated by attempts at painful penetration, making pain worse, so this needs intervention,” Dr. Wickman said.
Your pelvic floor also plays an important role in sexual arousal and orgasm. To build up your pelvic floor muscles, you can try Kegel exercises.
I have zero sex drive right now. Will I ever want to have sex again?
“Low sexual desire after delivery is very common,” Dr. Wickman said.
You have a lot going on, like hormonal shifts, sleep deprivation, pain or poor body image due to weight gain or physical changes. Some people also experience postpartum “baby blues” or symptoms of postpartum depression after giving birth, which include mood swings and irritability.
Non-birthing partners may also struggle with emotions and figuring out their place within the family during this postpartum period.
“For both parents, emotional readiness can take some time,” Dr. Wickman said. “Communication is essential. Talk about what each of you is feeling and experiencing and clarify your needs. Having a baby is a relationship milestone. It requires attention and commitment to navigate a relationship successfully through this challenge, but it adds to the foundation of trust and reliance on each other.”
When you feel physically and emotionally ready to have sex, take it slow. Communicate with your partner about what feels good and pause or stop if you experience discomfort or pain.
Talk to your health care provider if you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or other issues with resuming sex.
Do we need to use contraception if I am breastfeeding/haven’t gotten my period?
Even when you’ve just had a baby, it’s possible to get pregnant again soon after giving birth—even if you are breastfeeding. Ovulation can occur without any symptoms or warning. If sperm is present, then another pregnancy can occur.
“Breastfeeding alters the menstrual cues we rely on to determine the ‘fertile window’ of a menstrual cycle,” Dr. Wickman said. “Often, while breastfeeding, you won’t experience a period until weaning. However, just because there is no period does not mean there is no ovulation.”
Birth control (contraception) during this time is important. This gives your body time to recover and helps you retain control of your reproduction timing.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends waiting at least six months or more.
[Check out “How Long Should I Wait to Try and Get Pregnant Again” for more information.]
After having a baby, whether by vaginal delivery or C-section, your body needs time to heal. Be patient with yourself and one another. You should return to sex at a comfortable pace for you both.
“This is time for you to bond with your baby and to recover,” Dr. Wickman said. “Do not let unrealistic expectations set you back.”
Experiencing painful sex or symptoms of baby blues or postpartum depression?
Schedule an appointment with an OBGYN.