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Sex During Pregnancy

Dr. Shawn A. Tassone

Reviewed by
Dr. Shawn A. Tassone

Changes in your sex life are inevitable while you’re pregnant, and intimacy is important during these difficult nine months, whether it’s sex or just kissing and cuddling. Many women experience mood swings that extend to their libidos — one minute you’re insatiable, and the next minute you’re not in the mood at all. Many women also worry about whether sex is even safe during pregnancy. The subject of sex during pregnancy is fraught with questions, but we will try to address as many of them here as possible.

Can Sex Harm the Baby?

No, sex is not directly harmful to the baby. Your baby is protected by the amniotic sac and by the muscles of the uterus, and the cervix is sealed by a thick mucus plug that prevents infections. It’s not possible for the penis to come into direct contact with the baby during sex. Of course overly vigorous or very intense physical activity of any kind is not necessarily a good idea during pregnancy.

When Sex is Safe During Pregnancy

As long as your pregnancy is considered “normal,” or low-risk, sex is safe during all stages of pregnancy. Only your doctor will be able to determine whether you are low risk. High-risk pregnant patients are often advised to abstain from sex. This includes patients with twins, incompetent cervix, placenta previa, or bleeding during pregnancy, among others.

As your pregnancy progresses, you may need to find new positions as more familiar ones become less comfortable. It’s important to understand, however, that sex shouldn’t be painful while you’re pregnant. If your pregnancy is normal and you’re experiencing pain during intercourse, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Orgasms during pregnancy are perfectly safe and healthy, too. During orgasms, you will feel your uterus contract, but these contractions are extremely different from labor contractions. There is no danger of an orgasm bringing on premature labor. Many pregnant women experience orgasms in their sleep; these are involuntary and are not a concern, even if you are “high-risk.”

When Sex is Unsafe During Pregnancy

If you’re experiencing complications such as bleeding,discharge, cramping, or leakage of amniotic fluid, sex during the pregnancy may be unsafe. You should also consult your doctor before continuing your sex life if you’re expecting more than one baby, or if you have a history of pre-term labor or miscarriages with previous pregnancies.

Some women have what is known as an incompetent cervix—a cervix that begins to open prematurely. If your doctor has diagnosed you with this condition, you may be advised to refrain from sex until after you have given birth (read more about this condition here). Also, if your placenta covers your cervix—a condition known as placenta previa—your doctor may advise you to abstain.

If you’re not having any complications during your pregnancy and wish to have sex, there are still a few things to keep in mind:

  • Know Your Partner: Having sex with a partner who has an STD can transmit the disease either to you or your baby. You should know your partner’s sexual history ahead of time and use a condom if you have a new partner.
  • You’re a flesh-and-blood woman, not an inflatable doll: While it is quite safe to give or to receive oral sex during pregnancy, do not allow your partner to blow air into your vagina. This can cause an air embolism, the blockage of a blood vessel by an air bubble, which can be fatal to both mother and baby.
  • Keep the back door shut for a while: Anal sex is not advisable during pregnancy. Many women experience hemorrhoids while pregnant, and anal sex carries the risk of infection due to the possibility that bacteria can make their way from the rectum to the vagina.
  • Keep some lubrication handy: Water-based lubricants are recommended during the pregnancy and after the baby is born, since most woman experience vaginal dryness. Many articles advise against the use of petroleum-based lubricants such as Vaseline, mineral oil, or baby oil. This is mainly because these products can degrade the effectiveness of latex condoms, exposing the woman to a higher chance of STD or pregnancy. However, many experts believe that mineral oil or baby oil is a safe and effective lubricant for intercourse, and its effects last much longer than those of water-based lubricants.

Sexual Desire During Pregnancy

While it is perfectly safe, in most circumstances, to have sex during pregnancy, you may find that you don’t always want to. Your libido can easily be sapped by nausea, fatigue, weight gain, breast tenderness, back pain, headaches, and other unsexy conditions that go hand in hand with pregnancy. Hormonal fluctuations can also wreak havoc on your emotional state (which is a mood-killer, to put it mildly), and the near-constant need to urinate doesn’t help, either. If you’re worried about reduced libido during pregnancy, all you can do is try to get as much rest as possible and hope for the best.

The good news is that many women report a substantially increased sex drive during the second trimester. The reason for this is not completely clear, but some experts believe it has something to do with the increased blood supply in the pelvic region.

Sexual Positions During Pregnancy

Most sexual positions are perfectly safe and healthy during pregnancy; your primary concern should be your own comfort. After the first trimester, you may find that lying on your back isn’t practical anymore. Don’t be afraid to experiment—try lying on your side or getting on top. For late in pregnancy, a rear-entry position with the male behind can allow for sex even if the pregnant belly is quite large.

Sex After Childbirth

Your body will need time to recover after your baby is born; how much time will depend on your condition, whether you have given birth vaginally or via C-section, whether you have had an episiotomy, and myriad other variables. At the very least, you can expect to be a little sore for a while, and many doctors recommend waiting at least six weeks before resuming your sex life.

Breastfeeding is well known to decrease libido in women. This is because the level of female hormone (estrogen) is usually quite low while nursing. This is why women usually have no menstrual periods while breastfeeding.

Moreover, the baby’s 24-hour a day needs will take priority over your own, and for the first few months you can expect to be too exhausted much of the time to think about sex (you may also suffer from post-partum depression). This fatigue is normal—albeit frustrating—and it is nothing to be worried about; once the baby is sleeping through the night (and your periods have returned) you can expect your libido to come back. Many women who have had children say it took a year after childbirth to feel like their sex life was “normal” again, and we often say after having a baby that it is a “new normal.”

 

Medical References:

    The Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/sex-during-pregnancy/art-20045318?pg=2 Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=14&pid=14&gid=000231 The University of California San Francisco http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/sex_during_pregnancy/ University of Maryland Medical System http://umm.edu/health/medical/pregnancy/staying-healthy-during-pregnancy/sex-during-pregnancy
[Page updated April 2016]