Can you go swimming when pregnant?

Got a little one on the way and wondering if you should adapt your swim training? Here's everything you need to know about swimming when pregnant

Person swimming when pregnant

If you’ve recently had the exciting news that you’re expecting a baby, you may be left wondering if you can still go swimming when pregnant.

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It’s a common question, particularly for those of you that have been swimming regularly as part of your triathlon training. So we’re going to answer it here with the help of Sportdoc London’s Dr Cath Spencer-Smith and ZONE3 athlete and swim coach Kim Halton-Farrow.

Speaking about her experiences swimming while pregnant, Kim says: “The world of swimming is an environment of freedom, exploration and weightlessness ­– the perfect recipe for a mum-to-be like myself!

“Just before that life-changing morning in our kitchen when we were delighted to see two lines on the pregnancy test, I was sea swimming in November in my costume and a bobble hat, taking on the Her Spirit Winter Swim Challenge.

“My pro triathlete swim training quickly changed to a more leisurely approach. The feeling of weightlessness is an absolute joy.”

Now it’s time to hand over to Dr Cath Spencer Smith to explain the ins and outs of swimming when pregnant…

Is it safe to go swimming when you’re pregnant?

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The vast majority of people can go swimming while pregnant. Very occasionally we say there are some people who shouldn’t.

Some women who have maybe had trouble with losing babies in the past, they might have to have a little stitch put into their cervix. We tend to tell these people to stay out of swimming pools and water. A public swimming bath is probably alright, but if people wanted to go wild swimming the issue is about infection.

If people aren’t sure, or they’ve had a high-risk pregnancy (see box-out below for a list of examples) or a miscarriage in the past, we say always get advice from your obstetrician. That’s probably sensible advice to say to everybody.

Having said that, it’s a pretty low-risk activity. For regular swimming, it’s really unusual for us to say to people that they shouldn’t swim.

Is it okay to swim in cold and open water while pregnant?

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Anyone who we’d consider a high-risk pregnancy or have any medical problems, probably you’ll want to play it safe.

But there’s a lot of BS about cold water in the sense that people say, ‘you shouldn’t go into cold water, you’re pregnant.’ Thankfully the foetus is naturally incredibly selfish and has its own beautiful placenta, all tucked away and is really central in the body. So it’s really unlikely cold water is going to chill the babe or reduce placental flow.

Having said that, when you go into cold water the first thing you do is hyperventilate a little bit and your blood pressure will naturally go up because your peripheries constrict a little and that raises your blood pressure.

So if you’ve had any issues about blood pressure or protein in urine then you probably shouldn’t be in cold water, but the vast majority of people will be okay.

The natural concern is that some people may feel a little bit faint, so I would always say to somebody who’s pregnant not to swim alone.

I probably wouldn’t take it up during pregnancy, but if you’re already cold-water swimming there’s normally no reason to stop.

Examples of a high-risk pregnancy:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • History of respiratory disease
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Placenta previa (low-lying placenta)
  • History of miscarriage
  • Double pregnancies
  • Fluid loss from the vagina
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding

Should you reduce your swim volume if you’re pregnant?

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No, not really. I don’t think you should. Ask yourself what you’ve done before. Are you a regular swimmer? Is this natural to you?

Most people are going to find they’re a bit tired, so they’ll probably naturally reduce their activity levels a bit. Most people will find if they can fit it into their routine and they’re not too knackered then they’ll be happy to swim. You don’t have to reduce your volume just because you’re pregnant.

Is it safe to swim if you’re in the third trimester?

If you’re the size of a barrel your diaphragm will tend to reduce your respiratory capacity a little, so you’re not going to be the most agile in the water. You might find it a bit breathless.

If people have, for example, problems with high blood pressure or any symptoms of pre-eclampsia then they shouldn’t be doing anything really.

I would say to people, if you can’t do anything else, can’t sit on a stationary bike, just swim.

Are there any strokes, swim drills or swim aids I should avoid when swimming?

Not really, it depends on what feels comfortable. A lot of people will get backache during pregnancy, so they might find breaststroke doesn’t feel so comfortable for their back.

None of these strokes should be injurious, but you’re probably not going to want to do butterfly.

The only real issue is getting in and out of the water. Your centre of gravity isn’t going to be so good, so you’ll want to be sensible getting out by using steps or getting out at the shallow end of a pool.

What should I wear to be most comfortable when swimming while pregnant?

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Kim says: “Most swimsuits are made of a material that stretches to your shape. However, I have also been looking at the ZONE3 website to treat myself to a more suitable fit!

“There’s a huge range of swimwear and wetsuit styles to choose from, which means you can pick an outfit that’s going to help you look and feel great.”

A swim robe is also a great accessory for after your swim, allowing you to warm up and dry off quickly and in comfort.

A final word…

If you’re not sure, go and check with your GP. If they’re not sure, go and check with your obstetrician. And if they’re still not sure sometimes you can check with a sports doctor as well. But don’t be afraid of it.

Looking for some new swim kit? Check out ZONE3’s full range of women’s wetsuits and women’s swimwear.

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Top image credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images