Let’s get physical

Is it safe to keep “doing it”? We get that question about sex during pregnancy quite often at Annerley. The good news is that, if your pregnancy is normal and your waters haven’t broken, having sex during pregnancy is perfectly safe. Having intercourse cannot hurt or “dent” the baby, since she is well-protected and cushioned by amniotic fluid. Moreover, the mucus plug that sits inside the cervix provides protection against infection.

We do, however, recommend avoiding penetrative sex (but not intimacy!) if there is an existing pregnancy-related complication such as:

• a low-lying placenta

• premature labour (i.e. labour started before 37 weeks)

• vaginal bleeding

• abnormal vaginal discharge

• incompetent cervix or cervical insufficiency

• ruptured membranes or broken waters

• an outbreak of genital herpes or feeling one coming on

• existence of sexually transmitted diseases

But being “allowed” to do it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll both be up for it, which varies from person to person and from one stage of the pregnancy to the next. Friends of mine, pregnant with twins, couldn’t have put it more poetically when they described having sex one week as “loving the lotus”, and the next as “humping the hippo”.

What’s happening?

From a physiological perspective, there are a number of changes that may contribute to the ebbing and flowing of your sex drive. For most women, increased blood flow causes engorgement of the breasts and genitals. For some, that results in heightened sensitivity; for others, it results in feeling “full” and uncomfortable. Vaginal secretions are more likely to increase and smell stronger, which, for some, will add to pleasure, but for others may be off-putting.

A pregnant woman’s libido is most likely to decrease during the first trimester because of the vast internal changes the body is going through. Feeling tired, moody, nauseous and/or sick, along with breasts that feel too tender to touch are common contributors to a decreased sex drive. Psychologically, even though we know that sex during pregnancy is safe, some women might still feel anxious about the possibility of causing a miscarriage.

The second trimester is commonly known as the honeymoon period. Many women – but certainly not all – will feel more energetic and generally sexier, with glowing skin, shiny hair and new-found curves. For some though, the feelings of tiredness and nausea continue well into this stage. As the second trimester progresses, partners are more likely to worry about hurting the baby, since the pregnancy starts to become more and more visible and “real” to them.

During the third trimester, for the majority of pregnant women, sex just isn’t at the top of the priority list as tiredness and niggles, such as backache, swollen ankles and heartburn, take over. For partners, the third trimester may bring worries and anxieties about the upcoming labour, birth and life after baby arrives.

What can we do?

Keeping the lines of communication with your partner open will help to avoid unnecessary mix-ups. Let your partner know if you’re not feeling turned on or if something feels uncomfortable. What felt great yesterday may not feel all that good today. You might want to try something different and experiment with different positions, foreplay or self-pleasure. If this is still too much, a generous dose of stroking, hugging and kissing will go a long way!

If you are still having sex, it is common – especially in the third trimester – to feel mild cramps during and/or after, especially if you orgasm. These cramps are Braxton Hicks contractions that are caused by the release of oxytocin. They are absolutely harmless and not an indication for you to stop.

This brings me to another common question: Can sex induce labour? The answer, I’m afraid, isn’t clear. For years, many doctors and midwives have been advising pregnant couples to have sex to help get labour going, rather than having to induce. This is based on the theory that:

• Sex increases the release of oxytocin, especially during orgasm, and oxytocin controls uterine contractions.

• Semen contains a high concentration of prostaglandins, which are known to help soften the cervix. It seems that sometimes this works, but sometimes it doesn’t. I say, if it doesn’t hurt, it’s worth a try!

Sofie Jacobs

Sofie Jacobs