As the saying goes – the last two weeks of pregnancy are the longest.
You’re uncomfortable, tired from waking up five times a night to pee, and already over the constant stream of queries asking if you’ve had the baby yet.
Not to mention everyone you meet has a sure fire way to get labour going.
There are many methods that are touted as being able to get labour going, and one of the most common suggestions is ‘what got the baby in will get the baby out’.
Yes, sex is one of the most talked about methods of naturally inducing labour.
Sex is often suggested as a safe method by doctors and midwives, if the mother is feeling impatient and ‘over it’ at full term.
Can Sex Bring On Labour?
Potentially, yes. But it’s not just sex that has the potential to start labour.
If the idea of attempting to have sex with a big bump in the way is a bit daunting, you could try some of the other methods.
Here is how sex and other methods help:
The Big O
Your uterus is contracting all the time, even when you aren’t pregnant. Ever experience cramps during your period? That’s actually your uterus contracting. When you experience orgasm, your uterus and vagina contract but you may not notice it. Pregnant women are more likely to notice these contractions in late pregnancy, experiencing them as strong Braxton Hicks.
During sex and orgasm, your body releases the love and bonding hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin is also one of the most important hormones for labour and birth, stimulating receptors in your uterus to trigger contractions. During early and mid pregnancy, your uterus has minimal receptors, so you don’t go into labour too early. But later in pregnancy, the number of oxytocin receptors increase in preparation for oxytocin release.
During sexual arousal, oxytocin increases rapidly, with a big surge at orgasm. A small study has shown the strength of orgasm is directly related to the levels of oxytocin present. If the alternative is induction with artificial oxytocin with all the extra challenges and risks, staying in bed and creating your own natural oxytocin might be a better idea.
Help From Dad
Semen is a natural source of prostaglandins. These hormone-like substances are used in synthetic form to encourage cervical ripening in preparation for labour (usually referred to as ‘the gel’).
During a medical induction, your care provider may place a prostaglandin suppository high in your vagina, near the cervix. This gel has a higher concentration of prostaglandin than naturally occurs in semen, so there can be side effects such as nausea, diarrhea and vaginal irritation. It’s common to need more than one dose of the gel.
The effect of natural prostaglandins found in semen can depend on the volume of semen and concentration of prostaglandin within semen. Unlike synthetic gels, natural prostaglandins in semen are unlikely to cause unpleasant side effects.
Mothers who are feeding an older baby or toddler during late pregnancy may notice increased Braxton Hicks contractions when their child is nursing. This is the effect of nipple stimulation, which triggers an oxytocin release.
Nipple stimulation may be suggested to women who want to start labour or speed up slow contractions. The stimulation needs to mimic the action of a baby’s suckling.
You or your partner can try nipple stimulation in conjunction with orgasm and ejaculation in the vagina, or on its own. Find out how to perform nipple stimulation.
So Does Sex Really Work?
So far, science is divided as to whether sex really does work as a method to initiate labour. One study found having sex at full term was associated with earlier onset of labour and reduced need for labour induction at 41 weeks. Yet when the research was repeated, the results were reversed – women who had sex at term were less likely to go into labour than women who did not.
While the science is out, pregnant women who make it to 40 weeks or more are usually keen to try something to get things moving along. Most hospitals have an induction policy as well, so the pressure from care providers begins around this time.
Around 25% of births are induced in high-income countries such as Australia, America and Britain. Research shows about a third of those births are induced because baby is ‘overdue’ or pregnancy has gone past 40 weeks. Induction isn’t risk free, and women may want to avoid it by trying alternative methods, including sex.
Even if sex doesn’t actually start labour, there is little harm in trying, unless your waters have broken. Inserting anything into your vagina once the membranes have broken increases your risk for infection. Nipple stimulation or orgasm achieved without penetration is still fine to try, and may be the only level of sexual activity you are up for.
The main thing to remember is spontaneous labour will begin when baby is ready to be born and not before. See our article, what causes labor to start?