Sexual activity after giving birth

by Kaiser Permanente |
High angle view Of smiling young man kissing woman sleeping on bed at home.

Wondering when you can be intimate with your partner after giving birth? Many couples feel a special closeness and desire for intimacy after bringing a baby into the world. Even though some sexual activity might not be comfortable right away, you can still express physical intimacy in many other ways. Make sure to share physical affection and closeness.

When childbirth has gone smoothly and there are no complications, you can usually resume sexual activity when you feel ready. Most clinicians suggest waiting between 4 and 6 weeks before resuming sexual activity, but some couples may be ready sooner. Each person’s healing process is different. In general, it’s best to wait until you feel ready, are comfortable with it, and your vaginal bleeding has stopped for a week. Your clinician will let you know if there was a complication that would make it advisable to wait longer to resume sex.

What does it mean to feel ready? You may feel ready when:

  • If you had stitches, it feels like they have healed.
  • If you had a cesarean birth, your incision has healed and the pain has gone away.
  • You feel safe and comfortable.
  • You desire being physically intimate with your partner.

Some other things to know

It’s helpful to plan ahead and pick a time when you think the baby will be sleeping so that you are more relaxed.

If you are breastfeeding, sexual activity, especially orgasm, can cause milk to leak, so have a towel handy.

Because of hormonal shifts after birth, it’s normal to have genital tenderness and less vaginal lubrication. This is especially true if you are breastfeeding. Here are a few strategies that you can try:

  • Give and receive a massage.
  • Increase foreplay.
  • Try sexual play without penetration.
  • Use vaginal lubricants for penetrative sex if you have dryness or discomfort.

If you continue to have pain with sexual activity, vaginal estrogen cream is an effective treatment that is commonly prescribed to decrease pain. Contact your clinician if you would try this treatment. It is a safe option that can be used even if you are breastfeeding. If you continue to have pain with sexual activity, make sure to contact your clinician to make an appointment to be evaluated.

Your body may change for a few months, even up to one year, after childbirth. Your hormones are “resetting” after all the changes you experienced during pregnancy and your body needs to heal from your birth. Give yourself time to recover.

Having a new baby is very demanding and can stress parental relationships. Open communication with your partner about your feelings and making time for each other is important. Even though it is hard with a new baby, it is worth the effort.

What if you need birth control?

If you are partnered with someone with whom you could become pregnant, you can still conceive a baby even if your period hasn’t started yet. It’s important to use birth control every time you have sex if you don’t want to get pregnant. Breastfeeding does not protect you from getting pregnant.

Discuss your birth control options with your clinician at any of your appointments or in the hospital. Your choices may include birth control pills, implants, injections, rings, or condoms.

Start using your chosen method as soon as you resume having sex. Some good choices include:

  • Intrauterine device. This small, plastic, T-shaped device is inserted in the uterus and is effective for 7 to 12 years. IUDs can be removed at any time if you decide you want to get pregnant.
  • Nexplanon. This contraceptive implant is inserted in the skin of your upper arm and lasts 3-5 years. It can be removed at any time you want to become pregnant.
  • Depo-Provera. This shot containing the hormone progestin is given every three months. It is safe to use while you are breastfeeding.
  • Birth control pills. Talk with your clinician about the best pill for you. If you are breastfeeding, “mini-pills” containing only progestin are the best choice.
  • Condoms. These can also be used while you are waiting to start another method.
  • Natural family planning. Talk with your clinician about how breastfeeding can affect this method.

If you didn’t have a birth control method inserted while in the hospital, it can be inserted at a postpartum follow-up appointment.

You can learn more with our Birth Control Guide, available on the Kaiser Permanente website. Feel free to ask your clinician about any questions that you might have.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.