Sex while pregnant

Your sex life used to be pretty good (it’s the reason you fell pregnant in the first place) but as your body morphs in weird and wonderful ways, sex can feel different. For starters, there’s a third party on the scene and for many people this can prove a real buzz kill. Don’t worry, say the experts, most couples find their sex life changes as the bump grows, and it’s perfectly normal. We asked the experts to address your common questions and concerns.

I'm worried sex might hurt the baby

Don’t be! Your uterus is like a sturdy bank vault with strong outer muscles, a thick mucus plug that seals the opening, and a cushioning amniotic sac. Dr Eleanor Chew, of The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, says a baby is well protected in the amniotic fluid within the uterus. “The uterus is up above the vagina so penetration doesn't get up into the uterus and bub is protected within it,” she says. “As long as it’s a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, there’s no issue, even in the third trimester.”

Can sex ever cause a miscarriage?

Even a vigorous sex life won’t cause early miscarriage in a normal pregnancy. But there are some situations where intercourse is off the menu, says Eleanor. “If a woman has had repeated miscarriages, the doctor may recommend you play it safe and avoid sex. If there’s a history of bleeding of any kind, wait and talk to your doctor.” Intercourse may also be a no-no if amniotic fluid is leaking, you have placenta praevia (the placenta covers the cervical opening) or a history of preterm labour, premature birth or incompetent cervix (opens prematurely). If your partner has a sexually transmitted infection, use condoms and remember, intercourse is not the only option.

Can sex bring on labour?

There’s an old wives’ tale that if you’re overdue, a quickie will induce labour, yet there’s no scientific evidence sex kick-starts labour at any stage during pregnancy. “An orgasm can set off Braxton Hicks-style contractions, which are practice contractions for the uterus,” says Eleanor. “So a woman might feel sex will start to kick it off, but it won’t.”

Should I avoid sex once my waters break?

Absolutely, says Eleanor. “You’ve broken that amniotic sac the baby is being protected in, so that’s an opening for infection to get in,” she says. “But once waters have broken and contractions start, you’re not inclined to have sex.”

Can bub feel my orgasms?

Some women feel their baby move more after sex and this may be linked to your increased heart rate or those contractions associated with orgasm. “Whenever you get a Braxton Hicks contraction, your uterus is squeezing onto your foetus and of course it goes, ‘Hey, Mum!’ and puts a bit of an elbow into the side,” Eleanor says. So quite possibly bub would feel an orgasm if it were to occur. But don’t worry, it’s not harmful.

My libido has skyrocketed. What’s that about?

Lucky you! You’re being flooded with extra hormones now, which can boost uterine blood flow, vaginal lubrication and nipple sensitivity, especially in the second trimester. Dr Vivienne Cass, a clinical psychologist and sexual therapist, says the hormones can make you a little gentler, softer and more open. “But pregnancy also gives some women permission to let go more than they might have,” she says. “Women feel freer to be themselves.” Maybe you’re not worried about falling pregnant, or have a greater sense of femininity and empowerment. Enjoy it!

I've gone right off sex. Why?!

Got an hour? There are so many reasons a woman’s libido plummets: pregnancy sickness, nausea, fatigue, sore breasts, heartburn, urinary frequency, flatulence, haemorrhoids, body size, fear of hurting bub, your partner’s expectations… “To enjoy sex, you have to be able to relax, be in the moment and not carry any negative emotion,” says Vivienne. “Anything that makes a woman feel anxious, depressed or fearful will stop her from wanting sex.”

I'm worried my bump is a turn-off for my partner

Sadly, some men are put off by a pregnant belly, says Vivienne. “Some are concerned about hurting the baby, and others equate it with obesity, but I think the most common one is the discomfort of putting sex and motherhood together – if a man looks at his partner and sees Mother, he can’t see sex,” she says. On the flip side, some men find their pregnant partner very sexy, and that’s normal, too. “I’d say they’re more mature men who are focused on and attracted to their partner, and enjoy the aesthetics of a pregnant body.”

So how can we keep our sex life healthy?

Whether one partner is turned off or you have health concerns, your sex life can still thrive, says Eleanor. “Sex is not intimacy, it’s intimacy that leads to sex, so there’s always cuddling, kissing, mutual masturbation, toys… you don’t need to have penetrative sex,” she says. “It’s all fine and it’s all normal.” The important thing, adds Vivienne, is to be honest! “If one person wants sex and the other doesn't, then you have a relationship issue that has to be addressed,” she says. “Sit down and each say what you’d like, and see if you can find some middle ground.”

What are the best/safest positions?

Pleasure and comfort are pivotal, says Eleanor, and you’ll find you swap positions as your bump grows. Intercourse from behind and spooning from the side are usually preferable to lying on your back, which can put too much pressure on the base of the abdomen. “In the third trimester we don’t generally recommend that women lie on their back, let alone with a man on top!” she says. For more positions, see box (right).

What about oral sex?

Oral sex is fine as long as your partner has no infections, like cold sores, and avoids blowing into the vagina. “It’s very rare but theoretically, it can cause an air embolism,” says Eleanor. This is when an air bubble causes a blockage of a blood vessel, and can be fatal for you or bub.

How soon after birth can we have sex?

It’s up to you. “Most women wait until they’ve had their six-week check-up to be given the all-clear,” says Eleanor. Bleeding should have stopped and your body be returning to normal. If your birth was more complicated, requiring instrumentation or surgical tears, you might wait until 12 weeks and that’s perfectly reasonable, too.

Your best sex positions for pregnancy

  • Woman on top: there’s no pressure on your abdomen and you’re in control of the speed and the depth of penetration.

  • Spooning side by side: he’s behind you, so penetration won’t be as deep, and meanwhile the mattress supports your bump.

  • Missionary side-by-side: you get to face each other without putting pressure on the uterus.

  • Supported doggy style: you’re on your hands and knees, so the weight is off your pelvis, but penetration can still be deep.

  • Take a seat: as your partner perches on the edge of a bed or chair, you sit or squat on top. You have control of the penetration while relieving any pressure.

  • Shower power: use the shower wall for support while your partner penetrates from behind. Hot water is also bliss for aching backs!