Each couple's experience during pregnancy is different—including their tryst with sex. The good news is that by and large, there is no need to let go of the intimacy and feel-good factor that is the happy aftermath of a satisfying love-making session.
Sure, things do differ from case to case, but to quote a study published in the Health Science Journal: "Whether a woman should have sexual intercourse at any stage of the pregnancy depends, very much on her personal feelings as well as her partners'. From a purely medical point of view, there is no data to support the opinion that sexual intercourse should not take place at any time except when explicitly discouraged by a medical professional."
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Here's a quick run-through the myths versus facts and a few pointers beyond.
Myth: Intercourse and penetration will harm the baby.
Fact: Penetration and intercourse’s movement won't harm the fetus that is protected by your abdomen and the uterus’ muscular walls. Your baby is also cushioned by the amniotic sac’s fluid. "After the sixth month though, the amniotic sac tends to be susceptible to infection," says senior gynaecologist Dr Swapna Limaye from the Pune-based Deoyani multi-speciality clinic.
Matter of fact: As per senior counsellor Niloufer Ebrahim, who ran the much-celebrated Positively Pregnant ante-natal classes at Pune's Jehangir Hospital for over 17 years along with senior gynaecologist Dr Jyoti Unny, "The beauty of human intimacy lies in the sheer diversity of its expression. Use your imagination to balance the mommy and baby's well-being with romance. And no doctor ever banned the roses and chocolates either!"
The ante-natal classes, in the duration of over a decade and a half, took hundreds of couples through the rough and tumble of pregnancy—from its mental, physiological demands to preparing families for the changes that would come in the wake of the baby. "One of the subjects that we touched upon was sex. The issue is that both men and women in a patriarchal culture like ours need to learn how to communicate needs, accept the response to the said communication and adapt accordingly,” she says. The woman's body undergoes tremendous changes and what worked for her earlier may not be something that she may enjoy now. Her partner needs to understand that and keep an open and honest conversation. So speak your mind, ladies.
Ebraahim further points out that some studies suggest that it is best to avoid lying flat on one's back during missionary sex after the fourth month. That way, you can avoid the weight of the growing baby constricting major blood vessels. "Spooning, woman on top, oral and digital sex are some of the options," she says.
Myth: Pregnant women should not be thinking of sex.
Fact: A culturally perpetuated, misogynistic canard if ever there was one. A mommy-to-be is as much a sexual being as anyone else, and let no one ever tell you otherwise. "Hormones during pregnancy play a major role in increasing the libido of some women. On the other hand, some women feel more anxious and stressed out, which could decrease their interest in sex. In both cases, the father of the child has an important role to play in comforting the expectant mother. This comfort could take different forms in different cases. Basically, please do bear in mind that sex is more than just an act, it goes a long way in strengthening the bond between a couple as well as reassuring the expectant mother," says Dr Limaye. "The endorphins released can help her relax and go a long way in uplifting her mood."
Matter of fact: Some studies suggest that increased blood flow to the genitals could mean better orgasms for pregnant women. Sex also boosts the immune system and helps to keep both partners fit. However, Ebrahim does point to the socio-religious factors that could come into play. "I had couples coming to me with explicit instructions from their spiritual guru to not indulge in sex as it would affect the innocence of the child," she says. "Scientifically, that has no base absolutely, for the baby's brain is different from the mother's. Besides, a happy mother is bound to result in a happy and healthy baby.
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Myth: Err, but what about the contractions of orgasm?
Fact: "The contractions of orgasm aren't the same as labour contractions," says Dr Limaye. "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.”
Matter of fact: It is possible that an orgasm or sexual penetration could induce Braxton Hicks contractions late in pregnancy. Braxton Hicks are mild contractions that some women experience towards the end of their pregnancy, that do not indicate or induce labour. "Please do not use sex as a way to induce labour unless your doctor has advised you to try it out," says Ebrahim.
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Myth: You don't need to worry about condoms anymore.
Fact: "Contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) during pregnancy can cause serious health problems for you and your baby. If your partner has been diagnosed with an STD, avoid all forms of sex — vaginal, oral and anal," says Dr. Limaye. Condoms are a must, particularly if you are not in a mutually monogamous relationship or choose to get intimate with a new partner during pregnancy.
Matter of fact: HIV, herpes, genital warts, or chlamydia can harm the baby, says Ebrahim. "Apart from the condoms, be sure to wash up thoroughly after sex to avoid a Urinary Tract infection."
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Exceptions to the rule: when to avoid sex
Dr Limaye says patients are asked to abstain in the following cases:
- Problems with the cervix that could increase the likelihood of miscarriage or going into early labour --Placenta previa, where the placenta partially or entirely covers the entrance to the cervix
- Cervical incompetence, where the cervix opens prematurely
- A history of going into premature labour
- Substantial blood loss or unexplained vaginal bleeding
- Leaking amniotic fluid
- Pregnancy with twins
- The waters have broken, which may increase the risk of infection
Inputs: US National Library of Medicine national institute of health