A quarter of new mothers resume sex by 6 weeks, bpas research on women's choices after childbirth shows
Survey shows wide variation in when women resume sex after childbirth and barriers to the contraception they need to avoid new pregnancy
Body image anxieties put women off resuming sex
bpas regularly sees women with unplanned pregnancy before their baby is one and wants new mothers to be able to keep the “morning after pill” at home
A quarter of new mothers (23%) start having sex again by 6 weeks after having a baby, while more than one in ten wait longer than 6 months, according to a survey carried out for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas). Pain and exhaustion are among the principle barriers to resuming sex, but sadly body image anxieties among new mothers are also widespread.
Tearing or episiotomies (surgical cut to the perineum)with a vaginal delivery and having an emergency caesarean section have the greatest impact on when a woman resumes sex. The survey shows that the majority of women delivering vaginally will have some perineal trauma (72%) - and nearly 9 out of 10 first time mothers.
The survey of more than 1,300 members of the Bounty parenting club suggests women are waiting longer than in previous generations to resume sex after childbirth. Research from the 1970s indicated many women started having sex again between the 2nd and 4th weekafter birth.
Women who have had vaginal deliveries without tearing/episiotomy followed by those who have undergone planned caesarean-sections are most likely to resume sex by 6 weeks (35% and 25%), while those who have experienced tearing/episiotomy or undergone an emergency caesarean-section wait longer (20% and 13% by 6 weeks). By 3 months, 60% have resumed sex, and by 6 months nearly 90%.
This research provides the first recent data on the resumption of sex after childbirth in the UK and shows there is a wide timetable, which many new mothers may find reassuring. It also found that:
· Nearly half of women say feeling uncomfortable about their body after having a baby put them off resuming sex (45%). This follows on from previous research by the Royal College of Midwives in which the majority of mothers said "celebrity culture" increased the pressure on them to regain their pre-pregnancy shape
·A quarter of women (23%) are worried about contraception and becoming pregnant again
·Nearly half of women (48%) say they would have felt unable to confide in a healthcare professional about any concerns over resuming sex if they had needed to
Full report: Childbirth, Sex and Contraception can be found here.
Fertility can return within a month of childbirth. The survey indicates many new mothers will need access to contraception before the 6-8 week postnatal check when it is usually discussed, and fewer than a quarter of mothers said they found it "easy" to get their chosen contraceptive. There are several effective contraceptive methods which can be used while exclusively or partially breastfeeding, including the mini-pill, coil and implant and emergency contraception (the Levonelle morning-after-pill). However knowledge about the safety of these methods is poor, with most mothers believing only condoms can safely be used.
bpas has produced a guide to contraception after a baby, which provides information on the return of fertility and which contraception can be used whether women are breast or bottlefeeding. With the welcome support of Bounty, the guide will now be included in the Bounty pack distributed to over 800,000 new mothers in maternity units across the UK.
Clare Murphy of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: "There is no set time to start having sex again after having a baby - all that should matter for women is that it feels right for them and that they have access to the contraception best suited to their needs if they wish to avoid another pregnancy straightaway. We regularly see women experiencing unplanned pregnancy in the year after giving birth, sometimes because of confusing information about breastfeeding and contraception.
"The sexual health needs of new mothers will be diverse and we need to find innovative ways to support them. This may mean ensuring more information is provided antenatally, enabling those women who want to leave hospital with contraception to do so - including with an advance supply of the morning-after-pill if she wishes. Contraception and sexual health clinics dedicated to the needs of women with young children would be welcome."
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "In the interests of the long term health of women, it is really important that midwives are able to devote time to these discussions. Opportunities should be found in both the antenatal and postnatal period to provide the support and information that women want and need."
Lisa Penney of Bounty said: "The findings from the Bounty survey amongst new mums have shown just how important it is that mothers are provided with this vital information. For 55 years, we have worked in partnership with the NHS to provide information to new mums and we are proud to be supporting bpas, mums and midwives by distributing this guide in the Newborn packs we give out in hospital maternity wards across the UK."
For more information please contact the bpas press office on 0207 061 3377 or 07788 725185, or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
About the survey:
· A total of 1,346 women who had given birth at least once in the last 4 years took part
· Data was collected between 11th and 20th March, 2014
bpas is a charity which provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception from more than 40 centres across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice.