Contraception after having a baby
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For new mums, contraception may be at the bottom of the to-do list, but it's important to think about it.
It’s possible to get pregnant as soon as three weeks after you’ve given birth, even before your periods return, so if you’re sexually active after having your baby, you should be using contraception – unless you’re keen to get pregnant again!
When should I start thinking about contraception?
Contraception should be a consideration soon after or even before you give birth. This is because it’s possible to get pregnant again about three weeks after you’ve had your baby.
Even if it’s not on your mind, it’s normal for midwives and hospital staff to ask you about your contraception plans soon after you’ve had your baby. You’ll normally talk about it while you’re in hospital after giving birth, and once again at your postnatal check, six to eight weeks later.
You can bring up the topic of contraception at any time with your midwife, health visitor, or GP – even while you’re still pregnant.
What kind of contraception can I use straight after birth?
There are a few types of contraception that are completely safe to use straight after you’ve given birth – provided you don’t have any specific medical risks.
The NHS says it’s safe for new mums (breastfeeding or not) to use any of the following:
- The contraceptive implant – this is a small piece of flexible plastic fitted under the skin of your upper arm that releases a synthetic version of progesterone
- The contraceptive injection – this is an injection of synthetic progesterone given every eight to 13 weeks
- The progestogen-only pill – this is a contraceptive pill (also known as the mini pill) that is taken orally every day
- Male and female condoms
You can also choose to have the IUD or IUS fitted within 48 hours of giving birth. These are small T-shaped devices that sit in the womb, they are commonly known as coils. The IUD releases copper, while the IUS releases synthetic progesterone.
If you don’t have your IUD or IUS fitted within 48 hours of giving birth you’ll usually have to wait four weeks to have it put in.
When can I use the combined pill after birth?
Lots of women use the combined pill for their contraception, and may be keen to restart it after they’ve had their baby.
The combined pill contains synthetic versions of oestrogen and progesterone. It can be taken by new mums but not directly after birth. The same goes for the vaginal ring and the contraceptive patch, which are two other forms of combined contraception.
- If you’re not breastfeeding, you can usually start combined contraception three weeks after giving birth (provided there is no medical risk)
- If you're breastfeeding, you’ll need to wait at least six weeks to use combined contraception
Can I use a diaphragm or cap after giving birth?
You can use a diaphragm or cap for contraception from six weeks after giving birth. If you've used one before, please don't start using it again before you've had a check up: you may actually need a different size now.
Does breastfeeding work as a contraceptive?
The NHS advises that it’s possible to get pregnant after birth even if you’re breastfeeding.
By contrast, the Family Planning Association website Sexwise advises that breastfeeding can be up to 98% effective in preventing pregnancy for up to six months after birth. However, all of the following must apply:
- You’re breastfeeding regularly and only feeding your baby breast milk (or you only give them other liquids very rarely)
- Your baby is less than six months old
- Your periods haven’t started again
If you start breastfeeding less often, or if there are very long intervals between feeds, you stop night feeds or you are giving your baby other liquids, breastfeeding becomes a much less reliable form of contraception.
When can I have sex again after giving birth?
You can have sex again whenever you’re ready! However, your body will need time to recover, and you might feel sore for a while, so it’s important not to rush yourself.
When you’re ready to try, using a lubricant can be really helpful as it can reduce discomfort and friction. Remember too that sex doesn’t always have to be penetrative – oral sex and intimate touching can be a good way to ease yourself back into sex.
If you have any concerns about your sex life after having a baby, talk to your midwife or health visitor. It can also be helpful to communicate with your partner about what you’re feeling.
Breastfeeding and emergency contraception
The best option for breastfeeding mums is the morning after pill Levonorgestrel. You can also have the IUD copper coil fitted as a form of emergency contraception – however this can normally only be fitted from four weeks after you’ve given birth.
The morning after pill ellaOne is an effective form of emergency contraception, but we don’t know how safe it is for breastfed babies. It’s recommended that new mums who take ellaOne for emergency contraception pause breastfeeding for one week after taking it.