Sex as a Way to Induce Labor

What You Need to Know About Sex at the End of Pregnancy

Pregnant woman lying with husband on bed
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For a long time, women have been told that sex at the end of pregnancy would help bring on the contractions that signal labor. It's long been used as a natural method to try to induce labor. But is there solid scientific evidence that sex brings on labor?

Theories as to Why Sex Might Bring on Labor

Human sperm contains substances called prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that can help ripen the cervix and therefore help labor begin.

Additional prostaglandins are released by the woman during sex. Since synthetic prostaglandins are used as a method of cervical ripening for labor induction, it seems logical that natural sources might also be useful.

Sex play also often includes stimulating the breasts and nipples, which can result in releasing oxytocin. Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin that is used to cause uterine contractions and speed up labor, so this natural way to release it also would seem to be a logical way to stimulate labor. Female orgasm creates uterine contractions as well. All of these factors might promote cervical ripening and hastening labor.

Studies on Sex to Induce Labor

This is an area that has little high-quality research, but there have been some newer studies performed. Perhaps the better method for giving a reliable answer is a randomized controlled trial where one group of women have vaginal intercourse at least twice a week late in pregnancy and a similar group abstains from sex.

A study of this design enlisted 123 women who had a low-risk singleton term pregnancy. It found that vaginal intercourse did not hasten spontaneous labor onset at term.

A study from Malaysia enlisted over 1000 women, with half advised that coitus late in pregnancy after 36 weeks of gestation could be used as a natural method to safely expedite labor.

The other half were told only that sexual intercourse was safe but its effect on labor was uncertain. They were to keep a coitus diary and those who didn't return it were contacted for a phone interview. The women who were told that coitus could hasten labor had more sex than the control group. However, there was no difference between the two groups of women in labor onset and the need for artificial labor induction.

Another study by the Malaysian researchers found that women who reported coitus were actually less likely to go into spontaneous labor before their scheduled labor induction. Whether they had orgasm did not influence the rate of spontaneous labor. But they were happy to report that there was no association with adverse pregnancy outcomes for coitus and orgasm.

An Iranian study of sex in the last week of pregnancy concluded it might be associated with the onset of labor. It was a small study with 60 women who were questioned by a midwife at face-to-face interviews when they came to the hospital while in labor.

Benefits of Having Sex Before Labor

All of these studies and older studies found there were no harmful effects of having sex late in pregnancy for low-risk pregnancies.

 There are many reasons why very pregnant women might not want to have sex. But there is nothing a little creativity, patience, and love wouldn't work around.

Many women are turning towards natural methods of labor induction. While having sex at the end of your pregnancy might not bring on labor, many couples report that having sex makes them feel closer. Being in a relaxed state of mind certainly helps labor progress faster once it's started. Many moms report that having sex helps them sleep. And simply connecting with your partner can be a really great thing as you both prepare to face parenthood.

Sources:

Atrian MK, Sadat Z, Bidgoly MR, Abbaszadeh F, Jafarabadi MA. The Association of Sexual Intercourse During Pregnancy With Labor Onset. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal . 2014;17(1). doi:10.5812/ircmj.16465.

Castro C, Afonso M, Carvalho R, Clode N, Graça LM. Effect of Vaginal Intercourse on Spontaneous Labor at Term: a Randomized Controlled Trial. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 2014;290(6):1121-1125. doi:10.1007/s00404-014-3343-0.

Omar N, Tan P, Sabir N, Yusop E, Omar S. Coitus to Expedite the Onset of Labour: a Randomised Trial. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2012;120(3):338-345. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12054.

Tan PC, Yow CM, Omar SZ. Coitus and Orgasm at Term: Effect on Spontaneous Labour and Pregnancy Outcome. Singapore Medical Journal 2009 Nov;50(11):1062-7.

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