Sex is probably the last thing on your mind in the immediate aftermath of giving birth. But with half of new parents returning to sexual activity within six weeks, it’s worth considering your postpartum contraceptive options early on, so you’re covered when the time comes.
“We know that fertility can resume quite soon after childbirth – as early as three to four weeks in women who are not exclusively breastfeeding, which I think is much earlier than a lot of couples realise,” explains Dr Michelle Cooper, a gynaecologist, researcher, and spokesperson for charity Wellbeing of Women.
“We also know that sexual activity can resume earlier than we might think. At least 50% of couples will have started having sex again by six weeks. So these two things combined means that women are actually at quite high risk of an unintended pregnancy in those early weeks and months after giving birth, unless they’re using some form of contraception,” she adds.
How common are unintended pregnancies?
Accidental pregnancies shortly after birth are surprisingly common. Data from Lothian, where Cooper is based, show that one in 13 women who attend abortion services will do so within 12 months of giving birth – and these figures are thought to reflect most areas of the UK.
The data is similar for women conceiving and continuing with a pregnancy within a year of giving birth, Cooper adds, again coming out at around one in 13. “It’s actually quite a bit higher than I think any of us realised before we looked at the data,” she says.
Part of the problem, Cooper explains, is that the relatively quick return to both fertility and sexual activity for many women is also compounded by practical issues with accessing contraception as a new parent.
“Once you leave the hospital or birth unit, contraception is probably not the top of your agenda. It can be very difficult to access appointments so, when we survey women, the vast majority of them say that if they had the choice they would much prefer to be able to access contraception before leaving hospital,” she says.