By Rachael Rettner
Most women say they start having sex again six to eight weeks after giving birth to their first child, according to a new study from Australia.
The study periodically surveyed 1,507 first-time mothers living in Melbourne, Australia about their sexual activity within the first year after childbirth.
Overall, 41 percent said they had resumed vaginal sex within 6 weeks after delivering their baby, 65 percent by eight weeks, 78 percent by 12 weeks and 94 percent by 6 months.
Generally, the women said they had engaged in some type of sexual contact before resuming vaginal sex, with 53 percent saying they had engaged in some type of sexual activity by 6 weeks after childbirth.
Operations such as a Caesarean section, or the use of forceps during delivery tended to delay the resumption of sex. At 6 weeks, 45 percent of women who had a undergone a C-section and 32 percent who had had n assisted birth said they had resumed vaginal sex.
An incision or tear in the perineum, the region between the vagina and the anus, reduced the likelihood of having sex at 6 weeks: just 32 percent of women who had had an incision and 35 percent who had sustained a tear had resumed sex at this time.
Because just 10 percent of women will give birth to their first child without suffering a trauma to the perineum, it is reasonable for most couples to anticipate a delay to the start of vaginal sex after childbirth, the researchers said.
"This is useful information for couples to know before their baby is born, and may help reduce feelings of anxiety and guilt about not resuming sexual activity sooner," said study researcher Ellie McDonald, of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne.
Because the study was conducted in Australia, it's not clear if the results apply elsewhere.
Many factors influence when a couple engages in sex again after childbirth, and the decision will be different for each couple. Many doctors recommend delaying sex for four to six weeks after childbirth to allow the cervix to close, bleeding to stop and tears to heal, according to the Mayo Clinic.
When couples do start having sex again, proper use of birth control is important if the couple does not want another child right away. Some studies show that a short time period between pregnancies is linked to an increased risk of complications such as preterm birth and a low birth-weight baby.
The study will be published Feb. 27 in the BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.