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!
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Published July 20, 2011.
Last updated April 17, 2018.
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