Pregnancy and delivery change a lot about your body, as well as your sex life.

Postdelivery hormonal changes may make vaginal tissue thinner and more sensitive. Your vagina, uterus, and cervix have to “return” to normal size, too. And if you’re breastfeeding, that can lower libido.

In short, your body needs some time off after delivery.

There’s no definitive timeline that says how long you should wait to have sex after giving birth. However, most doctors recommend women wait four to six weeks following a vaginal delivery.

After your doctor has given you the all clear to resume sexual activities, you may still need to take things slowly. Remember: In addition to physical recovery, you’ll also be adjusting to a new family member, less sleep, and a change in your regular routine.

You may also need to wait longer if you have a perineal tear or episiotomy. An episiotomy is a surgical cut to widen the vaginal canal. Returning to sex too soon may increase your risk of complications, such as postpartum hemorrhage and uterine infection.

Read on to discover more about the effects of pregnancy and delivery on sex, and how to have a healthy, satisfying sex life after baby.

Sex after delivery will feel different. One small study from 2005 found that 83 percent of females experienced sexual problems in the first three months after their first delivery.

However, that number continues to fall as the post-pregnancy months increase.

The most common issues with sex after delivery include:

Hormones play a big role in postdelivery recovery and a return to normal sexual activity.

In the days immediately following childbirth, estrogen drops to pre-pregnancy levels. If breastfeeding, estrogen levels might sink below pre-pregnancy levels. Estrogen helps supply natural vaginal lubrication, so low levels of the hormone increase the likelihood of vaginal dryness.

Dry tissue can lead to irritation, even bleeding, during sex. This increases your risk of infection.

Vaginal birth can temporarily stretch the muscles of the vaginal canal. These muscles need time to recover their strength and stability.

If you had a perineal tear or episiotomy during vaginal birth, you may have a longer recovery. Having sex too soon can increase your risk of an infection.

A cesarean delivery can also affect vaginal sensation. The same hormonal issues can make the tissues of the vagina dry and thin, possibly leading to painful sex.

Plus, you’ll be recovering from abdominal surgery, so you’ll want to make sure the incision site has properly healed before resuming sex.

You can get pregnant surprisingly quickly after delivering a baby. One study found the first ovulation for women who weren’t breastfeeding is around six weeks. Some women ovulated even earlier.

If you’re breastfeeding, the hormonal benefits of nursing can act as a “natural” form of birth control for the first four to six months after delivery. Breastfeeding may be 98 percent effective as a form of birth control in women who:

  • are less than six months postpartum
  • still exclusively breastfeed their child
  • haven’t started menstruating

However, only about 1 in 4 women who use this lactational amenorrhea method (LAM), or breastfeeding as birth control, actually do so properly. That increases their risk for pregnancy.

If you’re going to have sex after pregnancy but don’t want to risk another baby so soon, plan to use a reliable method of birth control.

A barrier method, such as a condom, may be good to use at first. An implant or IUD can also be used. However, hormonal options may affect breastfeeding and can also come with certain risks, such as an increased risk for blood clots.

Talk with your doctor about the right option for you.

Is it safe to get pregnant again in the first year?

Getting pregnant too quickly after one pregnancy can put you at an increased risk for premature birth or birth defects.

Healthcare professionals encourage women to space their pregnancies. The Office of Women’s Health recommends waiting at least 12 months between each pregnancy. And the March of Dimes recommends waiting 18 months.

If you’re thinking about another baby, talk to your health care professional. They will be most familiar with your health history and offer more personalized recommendations.

In the weeks immediately following childbirth, you’ll likely experience some regular bleeding as your uterus heals. Sex may cause some additional blood loss.

Likewise, your vagina may be drier and more sensitive in the early weeks after childbirth. This makes the muscles thinner, which can lead to tearing or injury. The vagina may even become inflamed and swollen. In these cases, bleeding isn’t uncommon.

If the bleeding during sex doesn’t stop within four to six weeks or it worsens, see your doctor. You may have a tear or irritation that needs treatment before you begin having intercourse again.

The hormones estrogen and progesterone are crucial to your baby’s healthy development during pregnancy. They also happen to be vital to your sex drive.

Levels of these hormones are incredibly high during pregnancy. Once the baby is born, they decline dramatically, back to pre-pregnancy levels.

That means you may not feel any sexual desire for a few weeks. But you should be waiting four to six weeks anyway, as your body recovers.

After your doctor has given you the all clear to resume sexual activities, you may decide to wait longer before reigniting your sex life. One study found that 89 percent of women had resumed sexual activity within six months of giving birth.

If you’re breastfeeding, it may take more time for your libido to return than it would for women who aren’t breastfeeding. That’s because breastfeeding keeps estrogen levels low.

Estrogen supplements are discouraged if you’re breastfeeding because it may impact milk production.

When you couple changes in hormones with the fatigue of being a parent to a newborn, you and your partner may not feel like intimacy is even on the books.

As your body adjusts to its new normal or once you stop breastfeeding, the hormones will begin working again, and your libido should return.

You can have a healthy, fulfilling sex life post-pregnancy. These tips might help:

  • Take it slow. In the first weeks after you’ve been cleared for sex, your body may not be ready to jump back to pre-pregnancy activities. Take things one day at a time. Try intimate activities to warm up to sex again, such as massage.
  • Increase foreplay. Give your vagina time to produce its own natural lubrication. Stretch out foreplay, try mutual masturbation, or engage in other activities before penetrative sex.
  • Use a lubricant. You may need a little help with lubrication as your hormones readjust. Look for a water-based option. Oil-based lubes can damage condoms and irritate sensitive tissue.
  • Practice Kegels. Kegel exercises help rebuild pelvic floor muscles. This can help with common postdelivery issues, like incontinence. Exercising the muscles can also help you regain strength and sensation in your vagina. Build up your stamina by doing longer holds.
  • Make time for sex. With a new baby in the house, you and your partner may not have a lot of time for spontaneity. Put time on your calendars to be together. This way, you won’t be rushed or anxious.
  • Talk with your partner. Sex after delivery is different, not bad. Different can be fun and exciting, but you should keep an open dialogue with your partner about what feels good and what doesn’t. This will help you enjoy sex again and make sure you’re not experiencing any unnecessary pain.

Pregnancy leads to a lot of physical changes to your body. That’s why it’s important to give yourself four to six weeks after delivery before you have sex again.

During your recovery period, the uterus will shrink, hormones will return to pre-pregnancy levels, and muscles will regain strength and stability.

After you’ve been given the go-ahead by your doctor, be sure to take your time with returning to intercourse.

If you experience any pain or symptoms that persist, talk with your doctor. Painful sex may be a sign of other conditions unrelated to pregnancy recovery.