Contraception After Birth
If you are a new mum, contraception is probably the furthest thought from your mind. You may not be aware that many unplanned pregnancies occur just a few months after giving birth. It is important therefore that even if you have not yet thought about sex, you should be contraception ready. Below is our guide to contraception after birth.
Dr Hilary Jones gives advice on contraceptive use after pregnancy
How soon can I have sex after giving birth?
Many women are unsure when the right time to have sex after pregnancy is. The physical and emotional changes caused by having a baby may delay when you feel ready for sexual intercourse. The most important thing is that you choose to have sex when you and your partner are ready. You should speak to your doctor if you are concerned about having sex again after giving birth.
When will I likely be fertile again?
This can be different for every woman, but it's best to take contraceptive precautions, even if you have sex relatively early on after giving birth. Most women will need to start using a contraceptive method around 21 days after delivery.
Your period may return anywhere between four and ten weeks after having given birth, but this may also be dependent on whether you are breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding - and not in combination with bottle-feeding - it may take longer for your period to start again.
When do I need to start using contraception?
It can be difficult to know when to start using contraception after you have given birth. The length of time will largely depend on whether you are ready for sexual intercourse, and if you are breastfeeding or not.
It's possible that you may be able to fall pregnant without the use of a contraceptive method within as little as three weeks after pregnancy, even if you are breastfeeding and you haven't experienced your period yet. Therefore it's important to use contraception after having given birth, unless you are ready for another baby.
Does breastfeeding work as a contraceptive method?
When you are breastfeeding, your body produces hormones that regulate the production of milk for lactation. This hormone is known as prolactin. When it's active in the body it prevents the release of hormones that can stimulate the production of an egg. It is for this reason that breastfeeding can act as a form of contraception, particularly if you are fully breastfeeding, you aren't having your period and it's within six months after you had your baby.
The risks of falling pregnant during the first six months after having a baby using breastfeeding as a contraceptive method, something which is also known as the lactation amenorrhoea method, is very low - about 2 in every 100 women. However, most doctors will advise that you use an additional method of contraception as a precaution.
Once you stop breastfeeding exclusively, this method will become less effective as a form of contraception.
What contraception can I use if I am breastfeeding?
If you are breastfeeding your baby, you should not use a combined hormonal contraceptive such as the pill, even if you used it before your pregnancy. This is because oestrogen can influence lactation. It is possible to take the mini-pill while you are breastfeeding. Unlike the combined pill, this contraceptive contains just artificial progestogen and is almost as effective as the regular pill. The contraceptive injection is also an option, because it contains progestogen only. You can also choose to use male or female condoms or speak to your doctor about having a coil (IUD – intra uterine device) fitted, as these methods don't influence the hormone levels in the body.
Which contraceptive is right for me?
The right contraceptive for you will depend on a number of factors. If you are breastfeeding, contraceptives that don't contain oestrogen like the mini pill or injection are advised. If you are not breastfeeding, the pill, patch, and vaginal ring are options to consider. If you are not looking to get pregnant in the foreseeable future, long-acting reversible contraceptives like the contraceptive injection, implant, IUD and IUS can provide long-term protection against pregnancy.
You should be aware that fertility can take up to a year to get back to normal for some women on long-acting reversible contraceptives, You should speak to a health professional if you are considering taking this type of contraception.
Our interactive contraception tool can help you find out which contraception is right for you.
Can I use emergency contraception after giving birth?
Yes, but only after 21 days after giving birth. Emergency contraception will not affect your breast milk and will not harm your baby. Containing progestogen only, the emergency contraception pill works by delaying ovulation and preventing a fertilised egg from implanting itself to the womb. These actions prevent pregnancy from occurring. Our emergency contraception page can provide you with the necessary information, advice and treatment.