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Breast Intentions

Jul20

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesHi Amy!

I have a really awkward question and have not had any success googling and am too embarrassed to ask my doctor (who, when I brought up having some pain during sex at my 2nd prenatal appointment, told me we could worry about that after the baby was born (!!)). So, here goes. I’ve heard in various places that nipple stimulation can bring on labor. a) Is this true? b) if so… when should “nipple stimulation” be taken off the table? I’m 30 weeks now, and don’t want to break my husband’s heart earlier than necessary, ESPECIALLY since I have no idea how I’ll feel about the whole ordeal when my boobs have a totally unrelated-to-him full time job.

I really appreciate your honesty and tips and have become addicted to both amalah.com and your advice smackdown. Your boys are adorable and give me hope that I’ll be ok with mine when he decides to show up.

Thanks so much! Sorry to be so awkward!

The powers that be here at AlphaMom would very much like me to remind you and everybody else that I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I am not a nurse, not a midwife, and I’m pretty sure I averaged B’s in all my biology classes. I am just an Internet Clown with a lot of pregnancy books and Google skills.

That said, it really is unfortunate that your doctor gave you the brush-off about a previous question about sex. My OB could do that really well too sometimes — tell me “oh, you don’t have to worry about THAT” without telling me WHY I didn’t have to worry about the particular thing that I was worrying about. And like most pregnant women, a cursory head pat of an answer usually didn’t help me STOP WORRYING. I am a grown-up lady, doctor. It’s okay to talk to me about my body and use big words sometimes.

So I’m going to tackle your question, because you deserve to have your concern answered as thoroughly as possible without being made to feel silly and overly-paranoid or anything…BUT I still want you to ask your doctor about this at your next appointment, if only as a personal challenge to get over feeling embarrassed to ask certain questions of your doctor. You have 10 weeks to go and things can reaaaalllly start getting crazy weird down there and you MUST MUST MUST not hesitate to pick up the phone and ask your doctor about any of the crazy weird things you may experience. (Hello! I thought my water broke at 36 weeks! But it did not! Three guesses as to what probably really happened!)

Okay, so. SCIENCE TIME: Nipple stimulation is considered a natural induction method. Stimulating the nipple (with the aim of mimicking a newborn’s suck) can cause your body to release oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that can cause contractions. As pregnancy progresses, your body becomes more sensitive to oxytocin —  and why you may get more and more Braxton-Hicks contractions as the weeks tick by. So the theory is that women who are near or past their due dates can use nipple stimulation to try to bring on labor.

There’s just enough science behind it to keep it solidly out of the old wives’ tale realm (JUST EAT SPICY FOOD AND HAVE TEH SEX!), but it’s far from a sure thing. Hell, even hardcore medical induction methods aren’t always a sure thing — just ask anyone who labored for ages on a pitocin drip only to end up with a c-section. And nipple stimulation is usually used in conjunction with other induction methods, either natural or medical.

And there’s always the fact that when your sample group is made up of exclusively very, very pregnant women, it’s all but impossible to weed out the people for whom nipple stimulation actually brought on for-real labor…from the ones who just happened to try it a day or so before their bodies decided to go into labor anyway.

But here’s why you really don’t need to worry about it…

1) Unless your hormones are really unbalanced and out of whack, it’s super unlikely that your body would be THAT sensitive to oxytocin right now, or anytime before your baby is full term. And it’s super unlikely that your hormones ARE really unbalanced without you or your doctor seeing other symptoms or complications, so…you’re probably JUST FINE to handle a little boob-related oxytocin hit now and then. Any contractions triggered by nipple stimulation during sex would probably be your run-of-the-mill, harmless Braxton-Hicks. SO DON’T PANIC.

2) And let’s also nail down what we mean by “nipple stimulation.” It’s…purposeful, and far more intense than what you might be picturing. The online anecdotes I’ve come across from women who’ve had success with inducing actual labor from it were using double electric breast pumps. That’s a pretty big difference than a few minutes of playful grabbing, flicking, sucking, etc. Unless he’s sucking on your boobs –and deeply, too —  for five, 10 solid minutes at a time, you aren’t really “doing” nipple stimulation. I mean, you both might be “stimulated” as all hell, but…oh, never mind. If you can’t shake the fear or worry, just nudge him to a different venue after a couple minutes of boob play.

3) That said, remember that many, many women continue to breastfeed older children throughout their pregnancies, without any fear or increased risk of preterm labor.

4) I really wanted to avoid another scheduled c-section this time. I tried quite a few natural induction methods and old wives’ tales once I passed the 38-week mark. (Short of drinking castor oil. I just…couldn’t do that one.) I had a lot of sex. Boobs were absolutely not taken off the table. I absolutely did not go into labor. (And my scheduled c-section could not have been more surprisingly pleasant!)

In other words, most babies come out when they are ready to come out. If, God forbid, preterm labor happens, it’s not because YOU did something wrong or caused it in any way. (Since I feel like I can safely assume you did NOT compose this email while chain-smoking and popping pills and skipping prenatal visits all willy-nilly.) You and your husband enjoy those boobs. Hooraaaay boobs!

If you landed here for the first time and are pregnant, please visit Amalah’s weekly pregnancy calendar.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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10 Responses to “Breast Intentions”

  1. Zinna Jul 20 at 2:08 pm Reply Reply

    Yeah. What Amalah said.

    Also, I’ll add that once the baby is here and you’re breastfeeding, you might want to wear a bra during sex. Other women will most likely feel differently but once the boobs go from fun to function, I feel they’re off limits to my husband. Plus, I don’t know how one would handle leakage anyway. A good reminder for both him and me that the boobs were babyland is the bra-barrier.

    Good luck!

  2. Laura Jul 20 at 2:16 pm Reply Reply

    I read somewhere that nipple stimulation for 3 HOURS a day (in 3 1-hour sessions) MIGHT promote labour. So yeah, I wouldn’t worry about regular bedroom stuff.

  3. El Jul 20 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

    Just wanted to alert you to this study. The gist is that you shouldn’t try to induce labor yourself using any method, just let the kid stay there for 40 full weeks: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/health/research/31childbirth.html?_r=1

  4. Olivia Jul 20 at 3:59 pm Reply Reply

    So, there’s this thing call the Bishop’s Score that takes several factors into consideration to come up with the likelihood that a woman will go into labor soon or that induction will be successful. Basically, it underscores that inducing accidentally before your body and baby are actually ready is highly unlikely. 

  5. EB Jul 20 at 5:09 pm Reply Reply

    I’m alarmed that the OP’s doctor would really just casually brush off a question about sex being painful. Really?! Did he even have a look? There are a lot of reasons why sex might be uncomfortable or painful that should be at the very least diagnosed, if not addressed, now, not later. Not trying to be alarmist, but it seems like a huge oversight to me. I mean, it is likely due to changes that happen during pregnancy, and maybe certain positions could be recommended to overcome this temporary problem. Or, it could be something more, something that shouldn’t be a surprise during delivery.
    I had a male doctor, during a pelvic exam, tell me that sex is often painful for women. No. Wrong. Not at all. He also insisted that I should always have my husband wear a condom because sooner or later he was going to cheat on me and give me and STD, and I was being stupid (he actually called me stupid) for trusting him at all. What?! Yeah, I never saw him again.
    If your doctor makes you uncomfortable or brushes off your concerns, fire him. Or at least get a second opinion.

  6. Melissa Jul 20 at 6:09 pm Reply Reply

    Just wanted you to know that I have been asking myself the same question lately. Thanks!

  7. Emily Jul 21 at 1:50 pm Reply Reply

    just a note about ‘nipple stimulation’. People are confused and they think that it’s easy and can happen ‘accidently’. It’s not really the same as your husband messing around with them. Actual labor-inducing nipple stimulation is like 15 minutes every hour. This is what we did in the hospital to avoid pitocin. My water broke, I was thick and closed and I didn’t want chemicals. At my midwives’ request, hubby ran home and got the breast pump and we went to work. And yes, when done like that – it works. but a little foreplay isn’t going to do the same thing.

  8. julie Jul 21 at 6:47 pm Reply Reply

    What I’ve been told is that unless dr has put sex off limits due to concerns about pre-term labor, there’s no need to be concerned about nipple stimulation either (at least at the level that’s likely to occur in the bedroom.)

    And I agree that it’s important to feel able to ask your doctor about ANYTHING. And if you don’t, you might consider switching to a doctor you are comfortable with. (And it’s pretty much never too late to switch Drs even during pregnancy – I’ve known someone who switched about a week before he scheduled c-section date. In that case it was a different dr in the same practice, but still…..)

  9. Lizzie Jul 22 at 10:48 am Reply Reply

    Just want to encourage you to let your husband have free reign (as long as it is comfortable for you) now. Once I started breastfeeding my breasts were off limits to my husband because they were painful, then just sensitive, then it just felt weird, and even for a little while after I stopped nursing he would venture into that area and hard as I would try, I just…would giggle. I couldn’t help it. I don’t know what was so funny, it just felt…weird. And giggling during foreplay is SO NOT SEXY. Anyway, we/I got over it, but yeah. ;)

  10. rikki Jul 25 at 1:01 pm Reply Reply

    An anecdote from my own pregnancy… From the second trimester on, I absolutely had to take boobs off the table! Any nipple stimulation—even a slight rub of my shirt—caused uncomfortable (read: unsexy) contractions and significant baby movement and kicking. Watching a foot press out of your stomach is pretty much a mood-killer! This continually worsened as I got closer and closer to delivery.
    Nearing the due date, I remained 3-4 centimeters dilated for nearly three weeks—with my OB saying at every visit “I can’t believe you haven’t had this baby yet!” She finally scheduled me for an induction the following week, and I was so upset about that, I immediately went home and requested sex in an attempt to spur on labor. Hours later… hello active labor!!
    I would like to take this opportunity to point out that my sweet husband is a damn saint! He went nearly a year and a half without regular sex due to the nipple-situation while I was pregnant, followed an extremely bad 4th degree tear during labor! Unconditional Love FTW!

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