Everything you wanted to know about pregnancy sex (but were too afraid to ask)

Bupa GP Dr Gillian Rawlings offers some practical tips on having sex during and after pregnancy.

Many couples worry that sex during pregnancy can be harmful to their baby.

The truth is, sex is normal and healthy, and you can generally continue to enjoy it until the late stages of pregnancy – just with a few more considerations than usual. 

The need-to-knows

“Sex in pregnancy is generally fine,” says Dr Rawlings. Sex is not linked to an increased risk of miscarriage or other harm to the baby. And it’s unlikely to trigger labour, even close to the due date.

However, couples should note that some positions can be difficult during the third trimester.
 
“A woman should not lie on her back for more than a few minutes, as it is uncomfortable and affects blood flow to the fetus.” 
 
This is due to the compression of the inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood to the heart from the lower body. If lying on your back is uncomfortable, couples can experiment with other positions, such as lying side by side.  
 
Sex during pregnancy shouldn’t cause you pain or discomfort. Dr Rawlings suggests not having sex if you have had any bleeding, or have had cervical stitches inserted recently to prevent pre-term birth. She also advises against anal and rough sex.

Libido during pregnancy

Dr Rawlings says the way pregnancy impacts on the libidos of both women and men can be “hugely variable”.
 
“Female libido is mainly influenced by emotional wellbeing. If you are a pregnant woman feeling tired and nauseated, working long hours, it is likely your libido will be poor. Some men are fearful that sex while their partner is pregnant may harm the unborn baby, so this may affect their libido.”
 
On the other hand, there are also men and women whose libidos increase during pregnancy.
 
“Some couples who have struggled to get pregnant may find it a great relief not to have to have sex by the ovulation chart and return to spontaneity.”
 
Essentially, the way in which your libido changes during pregnancy – if it does at all – is unique, and can be influenced by various factors.
woman holding pregnant stomach

Sex after the birth

So, how long should you wait to have sex after the birth?

This depends on a few factors, explains Dr Rawlings.

If the woman has had a caesarean, an episiotomy (stitches in the perineum and vagina) or a tear, then sex may need to be avoided for several weeks.

If you are not sure check with your GP, midwife or obstetrician. 
 
“Most women will bleed for about six weeks after delivery, so this may be an issue for some couples. The vaginal lining can be quite dry for some months after delivery, too. If any of these problems are not resolving they should be mentioned at a woman's six-week check.”
 
Either way, she encourages couples to be physically intimate after the birth, even if penetrative sex is not possible for a while.

The contraception question

Contraception is also usually discussed at a woman's six-week check.
 
A woman's previous choice of contraceptive, her preferences and other health issues will all affect the type of contraception used, says Dr Rawlings.
 
“A detailed discussion with a GP, obstetrician or women's health nurse is essential.”
 
In short, you can carry on enjoying sex during and after pregnancy – just be sure to seek medical advice should you have any concerns.
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