by, Lizzy Bullock, WSI
Exercise goes a long way to promote to a healthy pregnancy. Exercise has many benefits for mom and baby but in the summer months, it can be difficult to find an activity that doesn’t cause you to overheat. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises pregnant women not to exercise outside when it’s extremely hot or humid and to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to avoid dehydration.
Benefits of Swimming During Pregnancy
Many land-based exercises become difficult to participate in as you continue to gain weight, and if your legs begin to swell. This is especially true of exercises like running and cycling that require more effort to carry your increasing weight. The resulting discomfort and fatigue often deter women from continuing their exercise routines during the third trimester, according to a study published in Medical Science & Sports Exercise. However, a study published in the Journal of Nurse Midwifery found that pregnant women who swam for exercise were able to maintain their routine’s intensity and saw no decline in performance, even late into gestation. This continued exercise allows for a lowered risk of gestational diabetes and a shorter, easier labor, according to a study by the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
And, thanks to water’s naturally cooling effect, it’s difficult to overheat in a pool as long as the water is not excessively warm. The Australian Physiotherapy Association reports that swimming and water aerobics are safe for a pregnant woman’s body and will not cause fetal hyperthermia when the pool is heated to 33 degrees Celsius or less (91.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Do remember to drink fluids before and after swimming as you may not notice sweating as much when in the water.
A few other precautions: wear non-slip footwear when poolside to avoid slipping and avoid crowded pools because your risk of accidentally being kicked in the abdomen increases the more swimmers are in the pool. Wear sunscreen if swimming outside to protect your skin and prevent development of the mask of pregnancy (darker areas of skin which can develop on the face during pregnancy and be made worse by sun exposure). Don’t swim so vigorously your heart rate exceeds 140 beats per minute. Finally, don’t dive or jump feet first from any height into a pool when pregnant.
Success stories from pregnant women worldwide are an inspiration to get in the pool. Kristi Lee, 36, competed in the United States Masters Swimming Nationals while pregnant in 2011. She noted a decrease in her lung capacity but still managed to take home a silver medal in her age group. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl and was back in the water three weeks postpartum.
Another successful pregnant swimmer, Natasha Bertschi, competed in a triathlon in her 34th week of pregnancy. She elected to stick with water exercise because she found that it relieved first-trimester nausea, helped her to give birth naturally (rather than by Cesarean) and kept her weight to a healthy level.
But, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from the effects of being in the water during your pregnancy. As a pregnant swimming instructor, I spend at least 30 minutes in the pool every day. Sometimes just walking back and forth; sometimes swimming gentle laps alongside a student. The result is significant. My body feels cooler even after I get out. I’ve also managed to avoid varicose veins) and foot and ankle swelling (caused by sluggish circulation in the lower legs during pregnancy). In fact, the Mayo Clinic specifically recommends walking in the pool to keep swelling at bay. On days that I don’t teach lessons, I feel a marked difference in my body: increased abdominal tightness, lower back pain, and a general heaviness that’s tough to bear.
Things to Consider Before Getting in the Pool
Can I Exercise?
With so many considerations, it’s hard to know what’s safe for you and your baby. If you’re unsure about exercising during pregnancy, know that the American Pregnancy Association recommends moderate exercise for nearly every pregnant woman. Research by the Mayo Clinic indicates that, when carried out safely, exercise during pregnancy results in many attractive benefits such as preventing excess weight gain, increasing stamina, allowing for easier sleep and easing back pain. Additionally, doctors at California State University found that regular exercise during pregnancy led to the formation of more hardy, resilient vascular muscles in the child. There are certain circumstances, such as when a woman has preeclampsia, placental complications, or cervical insufficiency, when your midwife or doctor may advise you to avoid exercise and take it easy. It’s always a good idea to discuss exercise with your provider at your first prenatal visit.
Accommodating Your Changing Body
Every day you’re baby is growing and your body is changing – making traditional exercise less manageable and, let’s face it, less appealing. Research by Thomas W. Wang, M.D. published in the American Family Physician Journal points out the many bodily changes that affect a pregnant woman’s ability to work out. As your uterus and fetus develop, your center of gravity shifts, resulting in less stable balance. A larger midsection leads to lumbar lordosis (swayback) which can be painful, and hormone production is thought to soften joints, increasing the risk of sprains and strains. Wang also notes that pregnant women who perform weight-bearing exercise may report pain and discomfort in the pelvis and abdomen, likely due to tension on the round ligaments that have stretched immensely to provide space for your growing child.
Thankfully, when you swim water provides a resistive force without the demands of load-bearing exercise. And, because water provides a low-gravity workout environment, women who are expecting can exercise without worrying about risks like falling, joint stress or abdominal trauma. What’s more, water’s weightlessness removes the sense of heaviness in the back, legs, and feet – providing you with much-needed relief.
When beginning any exercise, it’s always best to first check with your midwife or doctor before undertaking any workout activity. Once the go-ahead is given, get in the pool and enjoy.
Lizzy Bullock is a swimmer, Red Cross certified swimming instructor (WSI) and swimming coach with over a decade of experience working with infants, children, and adults. Lizzy currently works as a swimming instructor and staff writer for AquaGear, a swim school and online swim shop.