Pregnancy can be a wonderful, treasured time in a woman’s life. But the aches and pains throughout every inch of your body that come from carrying 20-plus pounds can take a serious toll on your physical and mental well-being.
Heather Figueroa, MD, obstetrician and gynecologist at Loma Linda University Health, talks with her patients about exercise at the beginning of each pregnancy and strongly recommends swimming, especially during the hot summer months.
Pregnancy is particularly hard on a woman’s back, abdomen, pelvic floor and knees, Figueroa says. Swimming provides a low-impact exercise with several added benefits outlined by Figueroa.
Promotes lung and heart health
- Cardiovascular health will aid in pushing during labor and can ultimately improve the labor experience overall.
Prevents unwanted weight gain and gestational diabetes
- Swimming provides a low impact exercise without exacerbating other pregnancy discomforts.
Reduces muscle pain and swelling
- Submersing your body in water increases circulation, reducing swelling throughout your limbs. The buoyance of the water takes some of the pregnancy weight off your primary muscles and back, providing both relief and more comfortable movement.
Keeps you cool
- Pregnant women often feel very hot throughout their pregnancy. Summer heat can heighten this discomfort. Swimming provides a cooling effect and may even help with nausea.
How can you stay safe while swimming?
While swimming during pregnancy is safe overall, says Figueroa, the same safety rules apply regarding paying attention to water currents, common water safety practices and swimming abilities.
Stay aware while swimming in open water or pools
- Pay attention to currents if you’re swimming in the ocean, a lake or a river. It’s best if lifeguards are present at the location. Swim with a family member or friend if possible. “Some women are concerned with the chemicals or chlorine in pools, but studies have shown no increased risk with these chemicals and pregnancy,” Figueroa says.
Swimming while pregnant is not about ‘no pain, no gain’
- “Pregnancy is not the point in your life to live by the exercise mantra of ‘no pain, no gain,’” Figueroa says. “It is important for women to tune into their bodies. Don’t swim so hard that you feel exceptionally short of breath. If you come up and couldn’t hold a conversation, you are working too hard — slow down your pace.” She also suggests watching for muscle and uterine cramping. “You might need a low-calorie electrolyte drink prior,” she says. “If swimming causes uterine cramping every 10 minutes, stop and message your obstetrician. If cramping persists even after you stop swimming, call your doctor’s office right away.”
Avoid hot tubs and saunas
- Figueroa says both are specifically concerning during the first trimester of 0-12 weeks while the neural tube (spine) develops. “The concern is the maternal core body temperature reaching fever levels of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher,” she says.
Don’t forget the sunscreen
- Skincare is always essential, but women during pregnancy can be more sun-sensitive, says Figueroa.
Haven’t swum prior to pregnancy? It’s not too late
- If you haven’t used swimming as a regular exercise prior to pregnancy, she encourages expecting moms not to be intimidated to start swimming. “Just start slow, and be safe,” she says. “If you’re unfamiliar with swimming, use the shallow end of the pool to relax or exercise.” Sign up for adult swim lessons. Let your instructor know you are pregnant.
There are some rare complications in pregnancy that might warrant limiting exercise or bed rest. The most common would be if the amniotic sac that protects the baby from infections was broken, she says. “We wouldn’t want to risk exposure to bacteria found in pools or other bodies of water,” Figueroa says. If an expecting mom isn’t sure, Figueroa recommends she talk with her obstetrician.
Are there swimming workouts specific to pregnant moms?
“I would do a variety of routines,” Figueroa says. “It’s also helpful to do some warm-up stretches that target the lower back or sciatica.”
- Target different muscle groups with a variety of strokes: side strokes, back strokes and forward strokes
- Do leg flutters and leg lifts while hanging poolside
- Kick boards provide exercise with added flotation support
- Tread water
- Once public or gym pools reopen, take a prenatal swimming class
The bottom line:
“Swimming while pregnant is a great form of self-care,” Figueroa says. “Self-care leads to healthier, happier mommies, which means healthier, happier babies and families.”
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your obstetrician if you have questions or concerns. Taking the plunge this summer might be the next best thing for your pregnancy.