Navigating life as a new parent brings with it a lot of change. Whether it’s your first or third baby, there will be adjustments to your schedule, your family dynamic and of course, your body.
If you’ve experienced a caesarean delivery, there will be a particular focus on healing as your body has undergone major surgery. While it might feel very far away at first, at some point, you’ll start to wonder when it’s safe to resume sexual activity post-C-section.
And, that’s where we come in. With the help of Kin Fertility GP, Dr Kirsty Wallace-Hor, we’re deep diving into all things sex after a C-section birth, including how long after birth, the safest positions to try and the ones to avoid.
How long after a C-section can you have sex?
From a medical standpoint, it’s recommended that you have a break from sex after you’ve given birth. According to Dr Wallace-Hor, “the general rule for restarting things like sex, swimming and using tampons is to wait until 6 weeks after giving birth”.
“This allows for the postpartum bleeding to have stopped (if it persists longer than 6 weeks, please check in with your GP) and the cervix has closed. By this time, a C-section wound has also usually healed (again, if it hasn’t, please see your GP).”
This period of time allows your body to begin to heal from both pregnancy and birth, which both take a toll on the body.
“Whilst C-sections are common these days, they are still significant abdominal surgeries,” says Dr Wallace-Hor. “And for a lot of women, they aren’t planned — meaning they could also come with birth trauma. It’s therefore important not to rush things if you don’t feel ready.”
There’s no hurry to resume sex if you’re unsure and you might find that you need more time than 6 weeks and that’s OK! Dr Wallace-Hor emphasises that everyone moves at different speeds and there is no right or wrong way to approach sex after birth.
“I always ask about sex when I review women at their 6-week check-ups after giving birth,” she says. “Some women have already engaged in some sexual activity at that point.
“However, a lot of my patients laugh at the prospect given all the other things we’ve covered during the consultation, like sore nipples, sleep deprivation and fatigue and the general feelings of being overwhelmed with a newborn.
“After we’ve had a chuckle though, come the serious questions: Will it hurt? When do I need to worry about contraception? Are things different after a C-section?”
There are 2 things you’ll want to consider before diving back into sex post-birth.
It’s important to give your body as much time as it needs post-birth before diving back into sex. If you’re still dealing with soreness around the incision area and generally still feel a bit uncomfortable, it’s best to listen to your body and go with it.
While the recommended timeline might work for some, it doesn’t work for everyone and there’s no need to rush into sex if you’re not there yet physically. If you’re still dealing with bleeding or pain after 6 weeks, be sure to speak to your doctor about this.
The second part of the equation is your emotional readiness. It can be difficult navigating changes to your body after pregnancy and birth and this flows into how you emotionally feel about sex right now.
It’s a delicate time and your head might not be feeling ready and that’s understandable. Take your time and be sure to talk it through with your partner so they know where you’re at.
What to expect
When you’re feeling ready to resume sex — and have been cleared by your doctor to do so — there are a few things to keep in mind.
A common experience of the postpartum period is vaginal dryness, which can make sex after birth a bit more difficult. This is caused by the drop in oestrogen and progesterone, which occurs as your body readjusts post-pregnancy.
Breastfeeding parents, in particular, may experience vaginal dryness as they tend to have lower levels of oestrogen compared to those who aren’t breastfeeding.
“With all of the hormonal changes in the postpartum period, especially if you’re breastfeeding, it’s also common to have low libido and vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse painful,” says Dr Wallace-Hor.
“Fortunately, lubricants, vaginal moisturisers and vaginal oestrogen can help with this. Pelvic floor exercises are also helpful. If you’re not sure what you’re doing is working, a women’s health physiotherapist can help.”
Incision site care
Your incision site should be fairly healed by the 6-week mark, but it may still be feeling a little tender, so be sure to take care and ease in slowly.
“When your C-section wound has healed, it shouldn’t be painful,” says Dr Wallace-Hor. “However, it’s not uncommon to have a bit of numbness, tingling or sensitivity. You therefore might want to avoid activities (including sexual positions) that put pressure on that area. Just like when returning to exercise, it’s also important to protect your core.”
This is a friendly reminder to consider your contraception options when you’re ready to resume sex after giving birth.
“You can ovulate and (and therefore fall pregnant) before your first period after giving birth,” says Dr Wallace-Hor.
“It’s therefore essential to have contraception sorted before resuming sexual activity again and your GP is a great person to help decide what’s best for you.”
Take things slowly
It might feel tempting to dive back in with gusto but try to slow things down and rediscover your body with your partner. A lot has happened over the last 9 months and you’ll need some time and space to explore this and experiment.
Mix it up
Remember that sex isn’t the only thing on the menu — you might want to ease yourself in with other activities like mutual masturbation or oral sex, which will allow you and your partner to navigate the more delicate areas slowly.
Sex positions to try (and which to avoid)
The aim of the game is to have a fun time without aggravating your incision area. So, with this in mind, there are a few sex positions that are safer than others.
If you want to try penetrative sex, these positions are great and comfortable for post-C-section delivery:
- Side-by-side: This position, also known as spooning, doesn’t put any pressure on your C-section scar, making it a good option for first-time sex after birth.
- Reverse cowgirl: The traditional cowgirl sex position may still be a bit tricky due to the pressure it puts on your scar, but reverse cowgirl allows you to control the momentum and penetration while keeping your incision site protected from strain.
- Sitting up: Have your partner sit up, with their upper body straight and legs uncrossed. While your bodies will be touching, this position doesn’t put much pressure on your C-section scar and you have control over the movements.
As for the positions you should be avoiding for the time being, these include:
- Traditional missionary: This position is off the table for a little while as it puts too much pressure on your incision area.
- Doggy style: This one can place extra pressure on your pelvic floor muscles and core, which are still healing, so best to avoid all positions that involve deeper penetration.
- Standing: Same goes for any standing positions as these put unnecessary pressure on your torso.
Be sure to discuss the safest way to have sex after a C-section with your doctor so you can receive tailored advice. And, have fun!