As a pregnant person, it may seem like every time you turn around you’re getting told not to do something.
Date night sushi? Not for you! The yummy cheese display at book club? Nope, it’s all soft cheeses. That extra cup of coffee? You can already feel the judgement emanating from your favorite barista, so no point in even asking them.
Facing a mounting list of things you shouldn’t do while pregnant, it can start to feel like nothing’s safe for you and your unborn child. You know you should eat, sleep, and exercise to stay healthy, but it can seem complicated to figure out how much of everything and what types of things you’re allowed to do.
For example, swimming. Is that safe? In a nutshell, yes.
While only you can decide what activities you’d like to participate in during your pregnancy, we’ve gone ahead and gathered together information to help you make the decision about taking a dip in the pool. (Keeping in mind that there is no substitute for talking to your doctor about your specific conditions!)
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, swimming is one of the safest forms of exercise during pregnancy. (Though it’s important to note that water skiing, diving, and scuba diving do not get a thumbs-up as they place pregnant women at an increased risk of injury.)
Swimming is even an approved form of exercise during in vitro fertilization (IVF) because of the considerable health benefits it offers while not placing a high level of stress on the body.
If you’re concerned about losing your endurance and muscle strength during IVF due to activity restrictions, swimming can offer a safe way to maintain your current fitness level.
Swimming is a low impact exercise that builds strength and aerobic capacity. By focusing on exercises that build core strength and don’t twist the abdomen, it’s possible to get in a safe swimming workout even late in your pregnancy.
It’s important to keep in mind though that while swimming is generally considered safe during pregnancy, it may not be approved for women with certain medical conditions or activity restrictions due to pregnancy complications.
It’s always best to speak with your doctor about your specific situation, particularly if you are changing your normal exercise plan or have any medical/pregnancy related conditions.
Be aware of risks
When going swimming, it’s important to only swim in areas you know to be safe.
Keeping in mind that you may tire more quickly than when you are not pregnant, be mindful if swimming far from a shore or beach. Consider tides, whether the water is rough, and any reports of bacteria in the water before going for a swim.
Keep an eye on temperature
Additionally, swimming in water that is very warm should be avoided during pregnancy as this can raise your body temperature.
Because it’s important for your temperature not to rise above 102.2°F (39°C) as your baby is growing inside you, the use of hot tubs, hot springs, or even very warm baths to relax while pregnant should be carefully limited — if done at all.
Particularly in the first trimester, a rise in body temperature due to being submerged in hot water could result in abnormalities at birth or potential miscarriage, so it’s important to take this recommendation seriously.
On the other side of the thermostat, it’s important to avoid swimming in lakes and oceans in frigid weather as the cold temperature can place the body into shock or result in illness, neither of which is good for your developing baby. (As a bonus, this provides an excellent reason to avoid your friend’s suggestion of a polar bear plunge!)
Water exercise can be a great idea during pregnancy, because there is little risk of falling, and water is soothing for the pregnancy aches and pains many women experience. Like any good thing though, it’s possible to overdo it.
Swimming can become unsafe during pregnancy if too much exertion occurs. Like all forms of exercise during pregnancy, you should stop swimming if you begin to feel nauseous, you become too hot, or you experience any vaginal discharge, bleeding, or feel abdominal and pelvic pain.
Consider keeping swim sessions to about 30 minutes at a time and limiting to 3 to 5 times a week. If you’re new to swimming, ask a trainer or coach to help you develop a safe routine for your physical abilities. This can help prevent over exertion.
What about chlorine?
If you’re worried about swimming in a pool or other environment with chlorine, you’ll be happy to know that at least
In fact, according to that study, women who swam in pool water at the beginning and middle of their pregnancy had a slightly decreased risk of delivering their babies preterm or with congenital malformations compared to non-exercisers!
While more recent research raised concerns about fetal exposure to water disinfection by-products in pools, the authors of the study stated that more data and long-term information was needed.
Exercise in general is encouraged during pregnancy, since it keeps the body healthy and prepares it for the rigors of labor ahead. In addition to the general benefits of physical activity, there are some bonus reasons to consider giving swimming a try during your pregnancy:
- Swimming is a low impact form of exercise, so your bones and joints will thank you. Being surrounded by water can also help to elevate some pressure on your body from the extra weight you’re carrying during pregnancy.
- Better sleep! Like many forms of aerobic exercise, better night sleep may come from spending some time in the pool. Since sleep can be difficult at various points during pregnancy, this is a benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked.
- Water can be a great form of pain relief, particularly during pregnancy when you may be experiencing swelling or discomfort due to weight gain. Even during your actual labor, the use of a shower, bath, or pool of water can act as a comfort measure to the pains you may be experiencing.
- Swimming may help the neurological system of your unborn baby. In
one experiment, a pregnant mother rat’s swimming altered the brain development of her offspring in positive ways. This study may indicate that swimming can protect babies against hypoxia-ischemia, a neurological issue, but the jury currently remains out on that while more information and research occurs.
- Swimming can typically be done safely in all three trimesters. So, no need to worry about stopping once you reach a certain point in your pregnancy.
If you decide to swim during your pregnancy, here are some tips to make it as enjoyable and safe as possible:
- Find a good fitting swimsuit. As your pregnancy progresses, your size and shape will change. It’s no fun trying to fit into or swim around in something that doesn’t fit right, so invest in a new swimsuit when your body is ready.
- Watch your step! It can be slippery getting into and out of water environments. Make sure to walk carefully so you don’t fall, and be careful in any pool locker rooms where it’s easy to slip on a puddle of water.
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 when swimming outdoors to avoid burns. Remember to reapply sunscreen frequently and consider avoiding swimming outdoors between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when direct sunlight is strongest.
- Stay hydrated. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, you can still be getting dehydrated while swimming. The cooling feeling of being surrounded by water may trick you into thinking you’re fine, but it’s important to take plenty of breaks to drink water. Avoid alcoholic beverages or drinks high in caffeine that will also encourage dehydration.
- Always swim with someone else around. If you’re swimming in an area without a lifeguard, make sure to bring a friend along. (If you’re new to water spots, it’s also a good idea to sign up for some swim lessons through the Red Cross or another local organization to improve your safety.)
Although you may feel like you can’t do (or eat!) anything while pregnant, swimming around the pool is likely to get two thumbs up from your doctor.
Not only can swimming offer some pregnancy pain relief, but other health benefits such as improved sleep and fitness are likely to follow a dip in the pool.
Generally considered a safe form of exercise during all three trimesters, it’s definitely something worth pursing if you have any interest. Just make sure to check with your doctor before planning a water birth!