Researchers hope we’ll rethink the postpartum sex ‘6 week’ recommendation

Young couple

After women give birth, they’re often routinely advised that they can commence having sex again when they are six weeks postpartum, but a recent study is highlighting that this might not be the best advice for many new mums.

Rethinking that ‘6 week’ advice

The Purdue University team findings were recently published in the journal Culture, Health & Sexuality.

Dr Andrea DeMaria – who is an assistant professor in Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences – led the study that delved deeper into the varied experiences women have when thinking about having sex after they’ve birthed a bub.

She says that individual circumstances affected when women felt ready to resume sex, highlighting that the standard ‘six week recommendation’ deserves a rethink.

“Among participants, the most frequent recommendation from health providers was to resume sex after the six week postpartum visit,” Dr DeMaria explained.

“But we found some women were ready before six weeks due to personal and partner desire, while other women expressed difficulties resuming sex, including pain and exhaustion from caring for a new baby.”

Locally, this is in line with Australian women’s experience of intimacy after birth.

“One Australian study found that within six weeks of giving birth, about 40 percent of first-time mums tried having sex,” the Raising Children Network reports.

“By 12 weeks after giving birth, almost 80 percent of first-time mums had tried having sex. Mums who’d given birth by caesarean or had stitches were more likely to wait longer before having sex.”


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Varied experiences are the norm

Dr DeMaria says her team’s “findings provide practical recommendations for health professionals to further develop tailored, timely health messaging related to safe and healthy postpartum sexual behaviours.”

It’s these tailored health messages that will help women do well after childbirth, she says.

“Providers should communicate to their patients pre and postpartum that women have varied experiences with resuming sexual activity after birth, and there is not one strict recommendation or guideline that applies to everyone,” Dr DeMaria explained.

Stephanie Meier, a doctoral student and co-author of this Purdue paper, says that opening up discussion about the varied experiences women have is vital and it needs to start before a baby arrives.

“If health care providers can bring this up and normalise these different experiences, then women and partners will be more aware of what they should be on the lookout for, that these feelings they’re experiencing are normal,” she said.

“Those conversations should continue throughout prenatal and postpartum.”

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