There are all kinds of home remedies for inducing labor: taking castor oil, eating pineapple or spicy foods, drinking herbal teas, nipple stimulation and, the one that’s the most fun, sex. Desperate women that are approaching their due date are likely to try them all. But do any of them really work? While the jury may be out on many of them, one recent study has concluded that sex is no more likely to induce labor than doing nothing.
For their study, researchers from the University of Malaya in Malaysia recruited more than 1,100 women. All of the women were between 35 and 38 weeks pregnant and none of them had had sex over the six week period prior to the study. Researchers divided the women into two groups; half of them were told that having frequent sex could be used to safely expedite labor and the other half were told that sex during pregnancy was safe but that its effect on labor was unknown.
Over the next several weeks, researchers tracked the women to determine how long their pregnancies lasted and whether or not any medical intervention was necessary to induce labor. The researchers also checked back in to find out if the women engaged in sexual activity during those last few weeks of labor.
Approximately 85 percent of the women encouraged to have sex did so. Interestingly enough, 80 percent of the women in the other group also had sex. However, women in the group encouraged to have sex did so, on average, once more a week than the women in the group told that the effects of sex on labor were unknown.
Overall, pregnancy in both groups lasted an average of 39 weeks. When comparing the two groups of women, researchers found very little difference between the two groups. In the group of women advised to have sex, 22 percent ended up needing an induction. This was compared to 20.8 percent of women in the other group. The difference is so slight, in fact, that researchers said it was probably driven by chance.
Thinking that sex could help naturally induce labor does make sense. Semen contains a hormone-like substance known as prostaglandin. A synthetic form of this hormone is often given to help promote labor. And it’s been suggested that orgasms could actually trigger uterine contractions. In fact, scientists have proposed a number of plausible biological explanations over the years, according to Dr. Tan Peng Chiong, author of the study. Yet, until now, there have been very few studies to prove any of these theories. Unfortunately for some women, it seems that this study only disproves the induction capabilities of sex during late pregnancy.
“Labor induction for prolonged pregnancy is common and many women are also tempted for a variety of personal reasons to trigger labor off in the very latter stages of pregnancy,” Dr. Chiong told Daily Mail. “We are a little disappointed that we did not find an association. It would have been nice for couples to have something safe, effective and perhaps even fun that they could use themselves to help go into labor a little earlier if [they] wanted.”
Dr. Chiang Tan says the results show that pregnancy has evolved to resist disruption.
“Human pregnancy has to be robust to a little adventure like intercourse and unfortunately for our purpose, it seems pretty robust to the very end,” Dr. Tan told Daily Mail.
But at least couples can rest easily in knowing that sex, even in the later stages of pregnancy, is probably pretty safe.
“Even though this study did not show any increase in the rate of labor or a decrease in the rate of induction, it helped to cement the idea that having sex is probably safe if you want it,” Dr. Jonathon Schaffir at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, who was not involved in the study but has studied obstetrical folklore.
*WARNING* It should be noted that sex is no longer safe after the water breaks and all women with high risk pregnancies should follow their doctor’s orders regarding sex during pregnancy. Additionally, while herbs and herbal teas are often recommended to help induce labor, there is no proof that it may actually help and some experts have expressed concern over the safety of taking herbal supplements during pregnancy.
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