During the eighth month of my first pregnancy, my husband got a long-awaited job promotion. One thing led to another, and, um, we celebrated between the sheets. Yes, we had sex in the third trimester. Instead of an afterglow, however, I began to experience cramps so painful that my husband took me to the emergency room. Of course the nurse asked me what I had been doing just before the cramps began. “That’ll do it,” she said, with a smirk, as if sex during the third trimester was just known for causing these kinds of things.
Thankfully, I was fine and my baby was fine, but to spare you from having to ask, let me answer your burning questions about sex during the third trimester.
Can You Have Sex During The Third Trimester?
Yes, you can have sex during the third trimester, with some precautions.
Dr. Renita White, MD, a board certified OB-GYN, tells Romper, “For most women, sex during the third trimester is safe. This includes vaginal penetration and penetration with toys or fingers. Sex will not harm the baby, regardless of sexual position. The uterine muscles, amniotic sac, and closed cervix will protect the baby.”
Sounds pretty great, right? But Dr. Alexandra Bausic, MD, OB-GYN, tells Romper that while sex during the third trimester is safe — for the most part and for most pregnancies — it’s important that women take extra precautions and pay attention to any symptoms that may arise.
Does Having Sex Induce Labor?
There are conflicting theories when it comes to this question.
“There are a couple actions at play here,” says Cheryl Furer, a midwife with Your Thriving Pregnancy. “One, sex and other forms of intimacy can stimulate oxytocin, the love hormone. Rushes of oxytocin are part of what creates contractions and helps birth a baby. The key is that the pregnant person has an orgasm — one or more!”
“Being flooded in love can help induce labor,” Furer says. The other factor that would be at play if the partner is male, is semen. Semen contains prostaglandins, which can help soften the cervix. There could be other factors, such as being skin-to-skin with your partner and nipple stimulation, that help increase the chances that your body will start labor, Furer adds.
Not every doctor agrees, however. “There are several theories about the ability of sex to induce labor, however, the few studies that evaluate this do not show it to be a successful induction method,” White says.
Male semen contains prostaglandin, which is a substance the body releases to prepare the cervix for labor. Prostaglandins are also released when a woman orgasms. However, evidence does not show that the release of this hormone during pregnancy sex leads to labor, White says. In addition, stimulation of the breast and nipples can naturally release oxytocin, another hormone that plays a large role in stimulating labor contractions. However, “nipple stimulation during sex is not proven to lead to labor,” White says.
Warning Signs After Third Trimester Sex
Typically, while sex can be uncomfortable — unless you try certain positions where your belly isn’t in the way — there shouldn’t be any pain during or after intercourse. Bausic says if you have any pelvic pain, uterine contractions, vaginal bleeding, or abnormal discharge, you should consult your healthcare provider just in case and “adjust your sexual intercourse accordingly.”
Furer concurs. “You should contact your care provider if you start having contractions that become regular in their timing, increasing in intensity, and/or feel excessively painful — like an extended leg cramp in your uterus.
“If you have any bleeding that is like a bloody nose, more than a teaspoon, or if you are feeling concerned, we would rather have you reach out and have it not be anything, than to brush something off that needs to be addressed,” she says.
One thing to note, however, is that sex can stimulate Braxton Hicks contractions — which is what happened to me during our celebratory romp — and they’re not necessarily always painless. “This can feel concerning if you are before 37 weeks, but they aren't going to force your body into labor,” Furer says.
“Sex can also break some of the cervical capillaries and create some spotting. Again, not usually a reason for concern, but anything more than a few spots, or outright bleeding, would be a reason to contact your care provider.”
When Is Pregnancy Sex Unsafe?
For some high risk pregnancies, sex is not safe during pregnancy, White says. Women with certain placenta problems are instructed to avoid sexual intercourse or even vaginal exams. Placental problems include placenta previa — where the placenta is covering the cervix — or placental abruption, where the placenta is detaching from the uterus prematurely.
White also advises women at high risk for preterm labor to avoid sex in pregnancy.
Dr. Renita White, a board certified OB-GYN at Georgia OB-GYN.
Dr. Alexandra Bausic, a board-certified OB-GYN and contributor for Let's Talk Sex.
Cheryl Furer, a midwife with Your Thriving Pregnancy.