Swimming During Pregnancy: 4 Tips to Stay Safe
When you’re pregnant, you’ll no doubt hear about the importance of staying active, both for yourself and the health of your growing baby.
“The better your conditioning is prior to labor, the easier it is to get through,” says G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Regular exercise may also decrease your risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and a cesarean birth, notes the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
According to ACOG, swimming during pregnancy is an especially great workout choice, as it utilizes many muscle groups. Water workouts also help you support the extra weight of pregnancy, so you’re less prone to muscle strain and injury.
Benefits of Swimming During Pregnancy
Swimming can be beneficial during pregnancy for a variety of reasons:
- It’s easier on your body. During pregnancy, your ligaments and joints loosen up, which means weight-bearing exercises can become uncomfortable. “Swimming is non-weight-bearing and relatively easy on the joints, but develops incredibly great cardiovascular strength,” says Ruiz.
- It strengthens your heart and lungs. As with any form of cardiovascular exercise, swimming can strengthen the heart and lungs. “Women who are pregnant—especially as they come to term—have decreased lung capacity. The more rapidly they're able to exchange air, the better it is for them during the labor process,” Ruiz says.
- It can help keep you calm. According to a study published in the International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health , swimming can have a positive effect on mental health. “Swimming is also stress-relieving, which can be very helpful during such a dramatic life change as pregnancy,” says Rachel MacPherson, a certified personal trainer.
- Usually, pregnant people can do it even in the third trimester. As your baby grows and you get closer to giving birth, it can become more challenging to do just about anything physically—but swimming provides a buoyancy boost. "Swimming is low-impact, which can be best for the later stages of pregnancy, especially if you feel back or pelvic pain, such as pelvic girdle pain," says MacPherson.
But what if you’re not already a swimmer? Is it safe to start?
How to Start Swimming During Pregnancy
If you aren’t a regular swimmer or you haven’t been swimming in a while, don’t worry; you don’t need to become an expert overnight. "You just need to go slowly—because you can easily get fatigued,” says Ruiz.
Just moving around in the water should be enough for you to get a workout. "You do not have to perform any special types of strokes to gain the benefits of swimming," adds MacPherson. "Simply paddling around or using a kickboard while kicking your way down the length of a pool will be sufficient."
You should also bring someone who's experienced with you, emphasizes Ruiz. That might be a swim instructor or a friend or family member who is an experienced swimmer. It's also a good idea to swim when there's a lifeguard present.
How to Keep Swimming If You Already Do
If you’re already a regular swimmer, you can likely keep it up—without pushing yourself too hard. "Keep your heart rate less than 140 beats per minute," says Ruiz. "When you go above 140, you're stealing too much blood supply from the baby." A good guideline for knowing that you're not exceeding this rate: You should be able to hold a conversation while you swim, and not be out of breath. You can also get a (waterproof) fitness watch for swimmers to track your heart rate.
Whether you swim laps or take water aerobics classes, you can maintain your routine, provided it still feels good to you. “A special pregnancy water aerobics class may add a social aspect and motivating factor that could be helpful to try,” MacPherson says. “Try bringing a kickboard or some pool noodles to add more support while you swim.”
You can also try going on a pool or beach date with your partner to spend quality time together, lower stress, and exercise all at the same time, she adds.
Swimming Safety Tips During Pregnancy
In addition to keeping your heart rate in a good range, follow these other safety tips when swimming:
- Be careful of slippery areas. During pregnancy, it’s especially important to avoid slips and falls. “If you’re at a pool, it's best to ensure the pool deck is dry, and to walk very carefully around the edge to avoid slipping,” says MacPherson.
- Avoid diving, snorkeling, and scuba diving. These types of activities involve increased water pressure, which can cause decompression stress for your baby, and should be avoided throughout pregnancy, according to the Divers Alert Network.
- Don’t use hot tubs or saunas. Swimming in a heated pool is fine, but it’s important to avoid getting in a hot tub or sauna. Anything over 100 degrees Fahrenheit should be avoided. This type of heat exposure can raise your core body temperature, which can be harmful for your growing baby and may even be associated with birth defects, especially when used in early pregnancy, according to ACOG.
- Be mindful of your muscles. If you start to feel your muscles cramping up, stop swimming immediately and get out of the water, notes Ruiz. Also stop exercising right away if you feel dizzy, faint, or in pain, MacPherson adds. “As with any physical activity, pay attention to what your body is telling you,” says Ruiz.
Just Keep Swimming
Overall, exercise is good for pregnancy, as long as you aren’t restricted by a doctor. And if you enjoy swimming, it can help you stay fit and feel good throughout each trimester, whether you’re a novice or an old pro.
Not to mention, swimming can also help you prepare for labor, which is a physically demanding process, notes Ruiz. So go ahead and jump in!
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