According to the American Pregnancy Association, swimming is one of the safest – and most effective – forms of exercise for pregnant women. However, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the safety of swimming during pregnancy. This guide clarifies these concerns and outlines the benefits, as well as provides valuable tips and advice for maximizing the benefits of swimming as a form of exercise during pregnancy.
- Why Swimming Makes an Ideal Exercise During PregnancyII. Exercising Safely During PregnancyIII. Does Swimming Pose Risks to Pregnant Women?IV. What Are the Best Water Exercises for Pregnant Women?
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Why Swimming Makes an Ideal Exercise During Pregnancy
While certain forms of exercise are considered too intense, particularly in the second and third trimesters, swimming is actually one of the better forms of exercise for pregnant women. As Breaking Muscle points out, this is due to swimming’s unique profile that makes it different from other exercise options.
For example, swimming is a low-impact exercise – meaning the activities place less stress on the joints of your knees, hips, and ankles. This is in contrast to high-impact exercises, such as running, jogging, and plyometrics, which involve the body making repetitive contact with the ground. High-impact exercises tend to place additional strain on the joints, above the ordinary pressure and strain from regular activities such as walking and standing.
Image via Flickr by Steve Alexander
In addition to providing a low-impact alternative that places less stress on the joints, water actually carries some of a swimmer’s weight, alleviating some of the weight burden on your limbs and spine. This is called buoyancy, or “the upward thrust exerted by water on a body that is completely or partially immersed.” As WaterArt.org explains, “Water acts as a cushion for your weight-bearing joints, thus preventing injury, strain, and re-injury that may be common to land exercise programs. In water, loading or weight bearing of joints may range from zero to 50% depending on a person’s water depth or working and body position.” This is a welcome reprieve for mothers-to-be who experience back pain due to the added weight of pregnancy.
In other words, swimming is a great form of exercise for your joints, limbs, and spine for two distinct reasons:
- The low-impact nature of aquatic exercise is less stressful for your joints in comparison to high-impact forms of exercise. That means swimming won’t create additional stress on your joints.
- Water’s buoyancy effect carries some of the body’s weight, reducing the typical weight load on the joints, limbs, and spine. That means swimming reduces the ordinary pressure on your joints and spine that is present even when you’re not participating in exercise.
Fit Pregnancy explains, “Water greatly reduces the usual stress on your musculoskeletal system and supports the weight of the fetus, thus taking a load off your lower back. Water also makes it easier for the heart to pump blood, reduces pregnancy-related swelling (edema) and takes pressure off your bladder.” What’s more, water provides a soothing environment while allowing you to get a full-body workout simultaneously. “Water provides 12 times the resistance to your muscles as does air, thus offering a strength-training benefit similar to lifting light weights.”
Live Strong also points out that a woman’s body typically produces 50 percent more fluid during pregnancy than normal. This, combined with increased water retention, leads to the swelling in the hands, feet, and ankles that represents one of the most common complaints of pregnant women, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. Swimming can offer relief from the pressure of swelling and actually decrease swelling by reducing the effects of gravity on fluid in the body.
“Ultimately swimming during pregnancy increases maternal aerobic capacity and provides expecting mothers with a sense of well-being as well as relieving morning sickness,” notes Breaking Muscle.
Exercising Safely During Pregnancy
It is possible for many women to exercise safely throughout pregnancy. If you were already swimming as a form of exercise before becoming pregnant, you can continue to participate in the same level of swimming intensity and activities. This is generally true for any woman experiencing a normal, low-risk pregnancy.
|If you are just beginning an exercise regimen, water exercise provides an excellent alternative to the more jarring, high-impact exercises like jogging or bicycling. It’s always a good idea to discuss any exercise regimen with your OB-GYN, even if you have been participating in the same activities at the same intensity level for months prior to becoming pregnant. Why? You can never be too safe when it comes to protecting your unborn baby, and your doctor may bring up concerns regarding your activities that you haven’t yet considered.
According to Breaking Muscle, the same rules also apply when it comes to staying safe throughout your workouts, whether you are exercising in or out of the water. Stay well-hydrated by taking breaks and drinking plenty of water, and don’t exceed a heart rate of 120 to 140 beats per minute to avoid overexertion. Hydration is perhaps even more important to keep in mind if swimming is your exercise of choice during pregnancy. It’s easy to forget to drink water when the water naturally keeps the body cooler, so your body doesn’t offer the same clues that you need to re-hydrate as it would if you were exercising on land, where sweating and a rise in body temperature lets you know that it’s time to drink some water.
If you’re new to exercising and also pregnant, you should start slowly with stretching followed by ample warm-up and cool-down periods before and after each workout. New Kids Center outlines several safety tips for swimming during pregnancy by trimester:
· First Trimester: Swim for about 30 minutes each day, if you have the capacity and strength to do so. Swimming in the morning is also said to counteract nausea and improve strength.
- Second Trimester: Your growing belly and the decreasing effects of gravity as a result of unique water buoyancy make many expectant mothers cut down on swimming time during the second trimester. A maternity swimsuit may make you more comfortable. The backstroke may also alleviate some discomfort and may be done without decreasing blood flow in the early part of the second trimester.
- Third Trimester: The breaststroke is said to be beneficial for expecting mothers in the third trimester, as it elongates chest muscles and reduces the stress on back muscles. Use a snorkel if bobbing up and down during the breaststroke causes strain on your neck.
New Kids Center also notes several warning signs. If you experience any of these symptoms while swimming during pregnancy, exit the water and seek medical attention:
- Light-headedness, dizziness, or breathlessness
- Heart palpitations, or the sensation of an irregular heartbeat
- Uterine contractions
- Abdominal pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Loss of fluid
Most importantly, listen to your body. If you experience discomfort or pain during swimming, exercising, or even relaxing in the water, get out of the water and seek the advice of your doctor if symptoms persist. This is really a rule of thumb for anyone participating in any form of exercise, pregnant or not.
Does Swimming Pose Risks to Pregnant Women?
One of the most common myths surrounding the safety of swimming for expectant mothers is that swimming in a chlorinated swimming pool is unsafe for an unborn baby. As HealthGuidance.org notes, these concerns arose after the chlorine levels in swimming pools were officially measured, and it was discovered that swimming could expose the body to as much as 140 times the amount of chlorine as a 10-minute shower. This is, of course, intentional, as the chlorine is intended to kill harmful bacteria.
While chlorine eliminates many of the harmful germs and bacteria that would otherwise be present in swimming pools, the chemical does introduce a few of its own potential risks. For example, when chlorine comes into contact with skin, sweat, or dust, a reaction sometimes occurs, creating a byproduct called ‘chloroform’. Chloroform can then be inhaled as fumes, absorbed into the skin, or ingested through gulping during swimming.
This said, there is no evidence linking swimming during pregnancy to birth defects. According to an article appearing on LiveStrong, “Dr. Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of the Department of Environmental Science and Technology at Imperial College in London says there is no scientific evidence that a woman can be harmed during pregnancy by the chemicals in pools or their by-products.”
What Are the Best Water Exercises for Pregnant Women?
There are many water exercises that are both safe and beneficial for pregnant women. The following resources provide useful information on the best water exercises for women during pregnancy, as well as links to additional resources on the benefits of swimming during pregnancy.
TodaysParent.com outlines several water exercises ideal for pregnant women, including warm up activities and exercises for muscle resistance.
FitPregnancy.com describes a prenatal water workout, including shallow-water exercises, deep-water exercises, and swimming.
According to Parenting Weekly, alternating aerobic activity with strengthening moves is the recipe for the perfect 30-minute water workout during pregnancy. “Warm up for five minutes or so by swimming a few laps or walking back and forth across the pool. Then alternate high-intensity walking or jogging with low-intensity recovery periods. The length of each interval will depend on your fitness level – start with 15 seconds and see how you feel. Repeat this high-low interval for 3 minutes, then perform one of the following strengthening moves.”
Vicky’s Surprise, a YouTube channel, offers several videos demonstrating water exercises for pregnant women. This video and this onedemonstrate water exercises in pregnancy.
|BabyFit.com describes how swimming makes an ideal exercise environment during pregnancy and offers several tips for getting the best water workout while remaining comfortable, such as the use of noodles, bouyancy belts, and paddles to increase the intensity of your workouts.
Effective Water Fitness recommends enrolling in professional water fitness classes during pregnancy, which offer the comfort of an experienced trainer. This article also recommends the breaststroke as the best and most comfortable swimming stroke, and suggests a low-pace, steady laps training during pregnancy as opposed to the interval training commonly used for losing weight and improving performance for non-pregnant individuals.
Mr. Dad explains the extensive benefits of water therapy for pregnant women, including a reduction in the fatigue commonly experienced by expectant mothers, particularly in the second and third trimesters. “Studies have shown that women who participate in water therapy or water aerobics while pregnant have better control of weight gain, less edema, reduced back pain, and interestingly they also are less prone to suffer from postpartum depression. Pregnant women that choose to find relief in the water note that in addition to the physical relief, they value this as an important way to focus on themselves before the arrival of the baby.”
Parents.com outlines four ideal workouts for pregnant women, including walking, swimming, yoga, and weight training.
|Image via Flickr by Michele Pegoraro|
HealthDay describes swimming as a safe and effective exercise for pregnant women, offering a number of tips and specific exercises for both beginners and those who are already accustomed to regular fitness routines.
Healthline names the best fitness options for pregnant women in the first trimester, including tips for exercises such as walking, swimming, yoga, and other forms of exercise.
What to Expect reveals the gym workouts that “get the green light” during pregnancy, including brisk walking, yoga, pilates, aerobics, and of course, swimming.
The Pregnancy Centre provides a handy fact sheet on pregnancy and exercise.
Staying fit during pregnancy is a goal of many women, but it’s a good idea for most to participate in some form of exercise during pregnancy. Swimming provides a safe and effective fitness option, with a variety of options for expectant mothers at all fitness levels. Provided that you’ve discussed your exercise plans with your doctor and there are no risks associated with your pregnancy, swimming is an excellent way to maintain your prenatal health.