Sex and contraception


How soon can I have sex again?

You can have sex as soon as you and your partner both want to. Having a baby causes many physical and emotional changes for both partners and it may take some time before you feel comfortable or ready to have sex.

Everyone's different, so don't feel pressured or worry that you're not normal if you don’t feel ready to have sex. It can help to talk to your partner or a healthcare professional such as a nurse, doctor or health visitor about any concerns you have.

When will my periods start again?

The earliest your periods can return is 5 to 6 weeks after the birth, if you're not breastfeeding. Breastfeeding usually delays the return of your periods. You're more likely to start having them once you breastfeed less often and feeds are shorter, but in some women they may return earlier.

You can become pregnant before your periods return because ovulation (releasing an egg) occurs about 2 weeks before you get your period.

How soon do I need to use contraception?

You need to start using contraception from 3 weeks (21 days) after the birth. It’s not possible to get pregnant earlier than this.

Many methods can be started straight after the birth so that you’re prepared (see When can I start my chosen method of contraception?). Don’t wait for your periods to return or until you have your postnatal check before you use contraception as you could get pregnant again before then.

If you're fully breastfeeding you can choose to rely on this for contraception (see Will breastfeeding act as a contraceptive?).

Which contraceptive method will be suitable for me?

This will depend on what you and your partner prefer, your medical history, any problems you had in your pregnancy and if you're breastfeeding.

Find out more about all the different contraceptive methods

When can I start my chosen method of contraception?

These methods can be used or started any time after the birth:

  • External (male) or internal (female) condoms.
  • Contraceptive implant.
  • Progestogen-only pill.
  • Contraceptive injection. When using the injection within 6 weeks of giving birth, you may be more likely to have heavy and irregular bleeding.
  • Fertility awareness methods. It may be more difficult to identify your fertile time immediately after giving birth or when you're breastfeeding.

From 3 weeks after the birth if you're not breastfeeding, or from 6 weeks if you're breastfeeding, you can start:

  • the combined pill
  • the contraceptive patch
  • the contraceptive vaginal ring.

Because your risk of thrombosis (blood clots) is higher during pregnancy and after giving birth, you may be advised to wait until 6 weeks even if you’re not breastfeeding.

From 4 weeks after the birth you can use:

  • an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • an intrauterine system (IUS).

The IUD and IUS can also be fitted within 48 hours after you give birth.

From 6 weeks after the birth you can start to use:

  • a diaphragm or a cap. You must check that it fits correctly.

Which methods are most effective?

Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) are the most effective methods at preventing pregnancy. You don’t need to remember to take or use them.

  • Contraceptive implant – works for 3 years. Can be taken out earlier.
  • IUD – works for 5 or 10 years depending on type. Can be taken out earlier.
  • IUS – works for 3 or 5 years depending on type. Can be taken out earlier.
  • Contraceptive injection (Depo-Provera or Sayana Press) – lasts for 13 weeks.

Other methods rely on you remembering to take or use them. These are all effective methods if used according to instructions. But you have to use and think about them regularly or each time you have sex. If they're not used according to instructions every time they're less effective.

  • The combined pill.
  • The contraceptive patch.
  • The contraceptive vaginal ring.
  • The progestogen-only pill.
  • External (male) or internal (female) condoms.
  • Diaphragm or cap with spermicide.
  • Fertility awareness methods.

If you’re breastfeeding then it’s recommended that you wait until the baby is 6 weeks old before starting the combined pill, the contraceptive vaginal ring or the contraceptive patch. These methods contain the hormone estrogen which may affect your milk production starting.

If you used a diaphragm or cap before you became pregnant, check with your doctor or contraception clinic to make sure it still fits – your cervix and vagina change shape during pregnancy and birth.

Fertility awareness methods can be more difficult to learn and use just after you've had a baby. If you used this method before your pregnancy, ask your fertility awareness teacher for advice.

What if I want to get pregnant again?

An implant, IUS or IUD can be taken out at any time you choose and your normal fertility will return quickly.

If you use the injection, your fertility may not return for several months after your last injection has worn off. It can sometimes take up to 1 year for your periods and fertility to get back to normal. So if you want to get pregnant sooner, this may not be the best method to choose.

You can stop taking or using other methods whenever you choose to and your normal fertility will return quickly.

Fertility awareness methods can help you with planning a pregnancy as well as avoiding one.

Waiting at least 1 year after giving birth before getting pregnant again can help you have a healthier pregnancy and birth, reducing the risk of complications such as an early birth or a very small baby. If you do get pregnant earlier, don’t worry – ask for advice from your doctor, nurse or midwife.

What are permanent methods of contraception?

If you're absolutely sure you don't want any more children you may wish to consider female sterilisation (tubal occlusion) or male sterilisation (vasectomy). These are permanent methods of contraception.

It's not usually recommended that you or a partner be sterilised at the time of childbirth, as you need time to be sure that you don't want any more children.

There's some evidence to show that women who are sterilised at the time of the birth, or just after, are more likely to regret this decision later. The failure rate of female sterilisation may also be higher when it's done at this time.

Will breastfeeding act as contraceptive?

Breastfeeding is also known as lactation. It can help to delay when you start ovulating (releasing an egg) and having periods after the birth. This is known as lactational amenorrhoea (LAM) and it can be used as a contraceptive method.

LAM can be up to 98% effective in preventing pregnancy for up to 6 months after the birth. All of the following conditions must apply:

  • You're fully, or nearly fully, breastfeeding. This means you're only giving your baby breast milk, or you are infrequently giving other liquids in addition to your breast milk.
  • Your baby is less than 6 months old.
  • You haven't had your first period since the birth.

The risk of pregnancy increases if any of these conditions apply:

  • You start breastfeeding less often.
  • There are long intervals between feeds – both day and night.
  • You stop night feeds.
  • You use supplement feeding.
  • Your periods return.

Once your baby is over 6 months old the risk of getting pregnant increases, so even if you don’t have periods and are fully or nearly fully breastfeeding, you should use another contraceptive method.

Will contraception affect my breastmilk?

If you're using a hormonal method of contraception a small amount of hormone will enter the milk, but no research has shown that this will harm your baby.

It’s advised that you wait until the baby is 6 weeks old before starting the combined pill, the contraceptive vaginal ring or the contraceptive patch. These methods contain the hormone estrogen which may affect your milk production starting.

Using the IUD doesn't affect your milk, and copper from it doesn't get into the milk.

Can I use emergency contraception after the birth?

If it's 21 days or more since the birth and you have sex without using a contraceptive method, or you think your contraception might've failed, you can use emergency contraception.

It's not possible to get pregnant earlier than 21 days (3 weeks) after the birth.

  • You can use an emergency pill from 21 days.
  • You can use the emergency IUD from 28 days.

If you're breastfeeding and use an emergency pill containing ulipristal acetate (known as ellaOne) you should avoid breastfeeding for 1 week after taking it. During this week you should express and discard your breast milk.

If you use the emergency IUD or an emergency pill containing levonorgestrel you can continue to breastfeed.

Where can I get more advice?

You can find out more about contraception from a midwife, nurse or doctor in hospital or at a birth centre, or from your midwife or health visitor at home. You and a partner can also visit your general practice or a contraception or sexual health clinic.

More about all methods of contraception.

Information from Oct 2021
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