Sexuality in Pregnancy
By Rebecca Mizzi - Mother, Midwife & Hypnobirthing teacher
Most obviously there are the physical changes, the first and last trimester are characterized by tiredness, which may effect one's sex drive, especially if there are other children to care for. The breasts are also often the first to change during pregnancy and become more sensitive. This needs to be kept in mind by the woman’s partner, as very often women won’t want much or any breast stimulation during pregnancy. The hormonal changes of pregnancy don’t effect everyone the same way, with some experiencing an increase and others a decrease in libido. However, the second trimester is characterized by a hormonal surge that increases one's libido generally.
“By around 22weeks I could feel a real switch compared to the first part of my pregnancy. I was much more interested in sex and felt like me, my pregnancy and my relationship needed and really benefited from it” - Amy*
“I had the impression that my libido would be up during pregnancy and was kind of looking forward to this… but it wasn’t the case for me, I never felt sexy during pregnancy in spite of my husband thinking that I was. The body changes so much, then there’s the weight gain at the back of your mind too” - Hannah*
And of course, libido and sexuality is very intricately related with everything else that is going on in one's relationship and the pregnancy.
“Massage was a great way to get into the mood during pregnancy because it made me feel loved. There were a few times that it was uncomfortable and then due to preterm contractions we stopped having sex, however during this time he really took care of me so it was still a really intimate and positive time for us” - Roberta*
There are a few physical contra-indications to having sexual intercourse during pregnancy. These are; a low-lying placenta and placenta previa (both diagnosed on ultrasound), pre-term labour (labour starting before 37weeks of pregnancy), your waters releasing, any vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, and yourself or your partner having a sexually transmitted infection.
The bump will most likely at some point get in the way with certain positions and its’ also important to remember that one should avoid lying flat on their back after 20weeks gestation. Therefore, side-lying, pregnant partner on top and on all fours, are favourable positions for the second half of pregnancy.
We must also not neglect the psychological aspect of pregnancy. Many couples will be unsure and uncertain about sexual intercourse during pregnancy.
“During our first pregnancy we were much more hesitant and unsure, although we continued to have a good sex life, there was always that background feeling of I hope we aren’t doing anything wrong, the second pregnancy was different, maybe because we felt pregnancy was more of a natural part of life” - Amy*
In a culture were pregnancy has become very much a medical event, it comes as no surprise that many feel this way. Some male partners especially may feel unsure and fearful of hurting the baby or their partner, and may feel that their own ‘self-control’ is the best way to ‘protect’ the pregnancy.
Many of us will have heard about sexual intercourse to get labour going after ones due date. Nipple and clitoral stimulation may help bring on labour at term due to the release of oxytocin - the hormone of love and birth. Again, this is not for everyone and not every couple will be wanting to do this. Long walks, a funny film and generally just showing ones affection to one another, are also good ways to enjoy the last few days of pregnancy together.
Whatever you decide and which ever way you feel best to navigate your sexuality during pregnancy, I can't stress enough the importance of having good communication between partners, so that the feelings and needs of both are shared. Pregnancy is a time of transition and preparation and a healthy relationship is the underpinning of this.
* names of Maltese mothers who have shared their comments with us, have been changed to maintain anonymity.