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Having Sex After Childbirth, How Long Do You Wait

Having sex after childbirth

If you have just given birth, having sex again soon is probably not the first thing on your to do list. However, if you are curious about how other women feel about having sex after childbirth and how long to wait, the findings of a new study may be of interest to both women and men.

Not tonight, I just had a baby

Having a baby is a life-changing experience, and one thing that changes is sexual activity after childbirth. Couples may have different expectations and concerns about having sex after childbirth, and it is important to know what to expect or what is considered “normal” to help quell any anxiety.

Investigators at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Australia evaluated data from 1,507 first-time mothers to determine when women tended to resume vaginal sex after childbirth. The data included information gathered from the women during early pregnancy and at 3, 6, and 12 months after childbirth (postpartum), and details of the birth, such as caesarean section, perineal tears, and episiotomy (also known as a perineotomy).

Here’s a summary of the findings:

  • 53% of women resumed sexual activity (not including vaginal sex) by 6 weeks postpartum
  • Overall, 41% of women attempted vaginal sex by 6 weeks postpartum, 65% by 8 weeks, 78% by 12 weeks, and 94% by 6 months.

The second set of figures needs to be clarified, however, because there were significant differences depending on the woman’s age and childbirth circumstances. For example:

  • Only 40% of women aged 30 to 34 years resumed vaginal sex by 6 weeks postpartum compared with 63% of women aged 18 to 24
  • When considering birth events, 60% of women who had a spontaneous vaginal birth (with an intact perineum) resumed vaginal sex by 6 weeks postpartum compared with 45% of women who had a caesarean section, 32% who had a forceps-assisted birth or episiotomy, and 35% who had a sutured tear

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According to an earlier study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the rate of episiotomy in the United States has been declining while caesarean births have been rising. The rate of episiotomy with all vaginal deliveries declined from 60.9% in 1979 to 24.5% in 2004.

The Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project noted that caesarean sections have increased over the years. In 2008, one-third of childbirths were by C-section, an increase from 21 percent in 1997.

Bottom line
A return to having sex after childbirth depends on many factors, including the overall health of the mother, the baby's health, mother's (and father's) fatigue, presence of postpartum depression, and other factors. This study examined the overall figures for when couples return to sexual activity.

Stephanie Brown, associate professor from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the new study’s lead author, pointed out that their findings “provide useful information for couples to know before their baby is born, and may help reduce feelings of anxiety and guilt about not resuming sexual activity sooner.” A return to having sex after childbirth depends on many factors and is a personal decision for each couple.

Frankman EA et al. Episiotomy in the United States: has anything changed? American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2009 May; 200(5): 573.e1-7
McDonald EA, Brown SJ. Does method of birth make a difference to when women resume sex after childbirth? BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2013 Feb 27.
Podulka J et al. Hospitalizations related to childbirth, 2008. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, statistical brief #110, February 2012.

Image: Morguefile