Pregnant women and their partners often wonder if it's safe to have sex during pregnancy. Will it cause a miscarriage? Will it harm the unborn baby? Are there sex positions to avoid? Here's what to know.
Is Sex Safe During Pregnancy?
Sex is a natural, normal part of pregnancy -- if you're having a normal pregnancy. Penetration and intercourse’s movement won't harm the baby, who is protected by your abdomen and the uterus’ muscular walls. Your baby is also cushioned by the amniotic sac’s fluid.
The contractions of orgasm aren't the same as labor contractions. Still, as a general safety precaution, some doctors advise avoiding sex in the final weeks of pregnancy, believing that hormones in semen called prostaglandins can stimulate contractions. One exception may be for women who are overdue and want to induce labor. Some doctors believe that prostaglandins in semen actually induce labor in a full-term or past-due pregnancy, since the gel used to "ripen" the cervix and induce labor also contains prostaglandins. But other doctors think that this semen/labor connection is only a theory and that having sex doesn't trigger labor.
When Not to Have Sex During Pregnancy
Talk with your doctor about whether it’s safe to have sex while you’re pregnant. They may advise you not to have sex if you have any of the following types of high-risk pregnancy:
- You're at risk for miscarriage or history of past miscarriages
- You're at risk for preterm labor (contractions before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
- You're having vaginal bleeding, discharge, or cramping without a known cause
- Your amniotic sac is leaking fluid or has ruptured membranes
- Your cervix has opened too early in pregnancy
- Your placenta is too low in the uterus (placenta previa)
- You're expecting twins, triplets, or other "multiples"
Keep in mind that if your doctor says "no sex," that may include anything that involves orgasm or sexual arousal, not just intercourse. Discuss it so you’re clear on what they mean.
Call your doctor if you have unusual symptoms during or after sex, such as:
- Fluid or discharge
- Significant discomfort
Every woman's experiences during pregnancy are different -- including how they feel about sex.
For some, desire fades during pregnancy. Other women feel more deeply connected to their sexuality and more aroused when they're pregnant.
During pregnancy, it's normal for sexual desire to come and go as your body changes. You may feel self-conscious as your belly grows. Or you may feel sexier with larger, fuller breasts. Not having to worry about birth control is another perk.
Here's a common pattern of libido during pregnancy:
- First trimester. Nausea, fatigue, or breast tenderness may kill your sex drive. But don’t worry; it will come back.
- Second trimester. Your libido may kick into high gear. In fact, increased blood flow throughout your body can enhance your orgasms.
- Third trimester. Sex may feel uncomfortable as birth approaches.
Tell your partner what you're feeling and what works. You may need to play with positions, especially later in pregnancy, to find one that's both comfortable and stimulating for you. If something doesn't feel right for either of you, change what you're doing and talk to your OB about any physical problems.
Avoid lying flat on your back in the "missionary position" for sex after the fourth month of pregnancy. That way, you can avoid the weight of the growing baby constricting major blood vessels.
Get on top or lie on your side, with your partner behind. Or get on your hands and knees, with your partner kneeling behind. These positions reduce pressure on your belly.
Use a lubricant if vaginal dryness makes sex uncomfortable.
As always, if you're not absolutely sure about your partner's sexual history, use condoms. Pregnancy doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections -- such as HIV, herpes, genital warts, or chlamydia -- and those infections can affect your baby.
Sex After Pregnancy
The first six weeks after delivery are called the postpartum period. Sex during this time may be the last thing on your mind. You may have less desire because of:
- Healing from an episiotomy (incision during vaginal delivery)
- Healing from abdominal incisions after cesarean birth
- Normal postpartum bleeding, common for 4 to 6 weeks after birth
- Fatigue after pregnancy and the birthing process
- Demands of your newborn (increased if you had twins or triplets)
- Changing hormone levels
- Sore breasts from breastfeeding
- Emotional issues, such as postpartum blues, anxiety over parenting, or relationship issues with the father
Intercourse is generally safe after any incisions have fully healed and you feel the delicate tissues of your vagina have healed. This healing usually takes several weeks. You can ask your doctor what they recommend. Most doctors will say to wait at least 6 weeks after delivery before intercourse. Equally important is feeling emotionally ready, physically comfortable, and relaxed.
After pregnancy, some women notice a lack of vaginal lubrication. A water-based lubricant can ease the discomfort of vaginal dryness during sex.
For both you and your partner, patience is a virtue. Given the realities and stresses of early parenthood, it can take up to a year for a couple's normal sex life to return in full bloom.
Can I Get Pregnant Again if I Am Breastfeeding?
Women who breastfeed have a delay in ovulation -- when an egg is released from the ovary -- and menstruation. But ovulation will happen before you start having periods again. So you can still get pregnant during this time. Follow your health care provider's recommendations on birth control.