Let’s talk about sex in pregnancy

Should you or should you not have sex when you’re pregnant? It’s one of those issues which so many pregnant women think about, but not many actually ask. Our expert midwife, Verona Hall, explains all

If your pregnancy is a normal or “low risk” pregnancy, then sex is safe. But be careful, as “low risk” does not cover the following: placenta previa (when the placenta is covering or near to the opening of the cervix), multiple pregnancy, history of miscarriage or threatened miscarriage, preterm labour (having a baby before 37 weeks), bleeding in pregancy or if your doctor has advised you not to have sex during your pregnancy.

Some women might be ecstatic to find that sex is safe during pregnancy, as their libido might have surged. However, others may not fancy having sex whilst pregnant – and as their bodies change, some find it uncomfortable or even painful.

Many expectant mothers find that their desire for sex fluctuates during certain stages in the pregnancy. Also, many women find that sex becomes uncomfortable as their bodies get larger.

But there are many reasons why sex during pregnancy can be more enjoyable, even if you are doing it less.

There is an increase in vaginal lubrication, engorgement of the genital area helps some people become orgasmic for the first time or multi-orgasmic, the lack of birth control, or if you have been trying for awhile, a return to sex as pleasure as opposed to procreation can be a treat.

However, you shouldn’t be surprised if your husband or partner does not want to entertain the idea of having sex whilst your pregnant. Some men even think they may hurt the baby, although I can assure you that this will not happen as your baby is well protected.

It is very important for you and your partner to talk about your feelings regarding sex whilst you’re pregnant. You may need to experiment with other positions to find those that are the most comfortable, and if you don’t want to have sex, talk about other ways to satisfy your need for intimacy, such as kissing, caressing, and holding each other.

Many women find that they lose their desire and motivation for sex late in the pregnancy - not only because of their size but also because they're preoccupied with the impending delivery and the excitement of becoming a new parent.

When it's not safe

If you engage in oral sex, your partner should not blow air into your vagina. Blowing air can cause an air embolism (a blockage of a blood vessel by an air bubble), which can be potentially fatal for mother and child.

If your doctor, midwife, or other pregnancy health care provider anticipates or detects certain significant complications with your pregnancy, he or she is likely to advise against sexual intercourse.

The most common risk factors include

  • a history or threat of miscarriage
  • a history of pre-term labour (you've previously delivered a baby before 37 weeks) or signs indicating the risk of pre-term labour (such as premature uterine contractions)
  • unexplained vaginal bleeding, discharge, or cramping
  • leakage of amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds the baby)
  • placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta (the blood-rich structure that nourishes the baby) is situated down so low that it covers the cervix (the opening of the uterus)
  • incompetent cervix, a condition in which the cervix is weakened and dilates (opens) prematurely, raising the risk for miscarriage or premature delivery)
  • multiple foetuses (you're having twins, triplets, etc.)

Common questions and concerns

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about sex during pregnancy.

Can sex harm my baby?

No, not directly. Your baby is fully protected by the amniotic sac (a thin-walled bag that holds the foetus and surrounding fluid) and the strong muscles of the uterus. There's also a thick mucus plug that seals the cervix and helps guard against infection. The penis does not come into contact with the baby during sex.

Can intercourse or orgasm cause miscarriage or contractions?

In cases of normal, low-risk pregnancies, the answer is no. The contractions that you may feel during and just after orgasm are entirely different from the contractions associated with labour. However, you should check with your health care provider to make sure that your pregnancy falls into the low-risk category. Some doctors recommend that all women stop having sex during the final weeks of pregnancy, just as a safety precaution, because semen contains a chemical that may actually stimulate contractions. Check with your health care provider to see what he or she thinks is best.

When to call your doctor

Call your health care provider if you're unsure whether sex is safe for you. Also, call if you notice any unusual symptoms after intercourse, such as pain, bleeding, or discharge, or if you experience contractions that seem to continue after sex.

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Verona Hall is an Independent Midwife who provides high quality, individualised care to women in the South East London region.

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