Swimming During Pregnancy
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Swimming is an excellent exercise to do regularly while you are pregnant. In the UK, most of us are lucky enough to have a public pool within easy travelling distance and they are usually quite affordable.
Why is swimming good for pregnant women?
Firstly, aerobic exercise during pregnancy is important for raising your heart rate and increasing your circulation, as well as maintaining your muscle strength and stamina. Unlike some other exercises though, swimming is very gentle on your joints which are at more risk of injury during pregnancy. Swimming, for most people, is accessible and affordable.
Swimming is a great way to exercise without becoming too hot, because the water temperature helps to keep you cool. It can also be very refreshing if you are suffering through a warm summer or experiencing the common side effect of feeling overheated towards the end of your pregnancy.
Swimming can also provide great relief if you are suffering from sciatica. This is because it reduces the weight on your joints and also strengthens and stretches the muscles in your back.
During pregnancy, the feeling of weightlessness can be a welcome relief and when you are in the water you weigh just a tenth of what you weigh on land! Spending time in the water is also thought to reduce water retention and swelling, as the pressure of the water forces some of the fluid from your tissue back into your veins. This is then processed in your kidneys and explains why you may feel the need to urinate when you are in the water! All in all, swimming can be a very relaxing and healthy activity, so do try to get down to your local swimming pool.
Is it safe to swim during pregnancy?
Yes, swimming is safe in pregnancy, but as with all forms of exercise, make sure that your GP is happy for you to do so. They may advise against it if you have any complications with your pregnancy, or if you have any other medical conditions.
Can I start swimming when I'm pregnant if I've never done it before?
If you can't swim, then heading off to the local pool with only your bump for company would be unwise. However, there are plenty of courses that you can attend as an adult, so, provided the instructor is happy to instruct you there is no reason why you cannot learn to swim while you are pregnant. If you are nervous about being in the water then make sure your instructor knows, so that you can stay in the shallow water until you are confident enough to swim out of your depth.
If you don't want to take swimming lessons then it doesn't mean that you can't benefit from exercising in the water. The best thing to do would be to join an aqua-aerobics class. You do not usually need to be able to swim to participate in these classes as they are conducted in water shallow enough for you to be able to stand. Make sure that you let your instructor know, however, that you cannot swim and that you are pregnant before you begin the class. Many public leisure centres and private health clubs offer antenatal aqua-aerobics classes so look out for these in your area for a water-based workout specifically designed for pregnancy.
I'm too embarrassed to go swimming with a bump!
Don't be! For a great number of women, the idea of slipping into a Lycra one-piece in public is too much even when they're not pregnant, but that's because they haven't done it before. If you go down to your local pool you will see that it isn't actually a place where the bikini-clad beautiful hang out on their weekends. People are there to exercise and they generally don't notice most of the other people around them. Leisure pools are full of all shapes and sizes and all types of abilities. Most pools have adult-only sessions, and many have women-only sessions. You will often find that they have sessions for lane swimming and there will be designated lanes for slow swimmers so you really need not feel awkward about your ability or your figure.
Obviously, you may find that some people stop and talk to you about your pregnancy but that happens outside the pool too. You may even find that the odd person expresses concern over you swimming, but just assure them that it is perfectly safe for you to swim and get on with your workout. You will probably find that you see a number of other pregnant women swimming once you start going regularly.
As your bump gets larger you may find that you are more comfortable in a swimming costume or bikini specifically designed for pregnancy. Some high-street shops stock these but you will find a greater range of maternity swimwear available online.
Can I do the breaststroke?
You can do any stroke that you find comfortable. Unless you were previously a very good swimmer, the butterfly stroke is probably best left alone given the difficulty of the technique but other than that, do whatever feels right.
The breaststroke is perfectly safe to do when you are pregnant, provided you have not been experiencing any pain in your pelvis. Discuss this with your doctor if you are unsure. If you are comfortable with this stroke it can actually be very beneficial insofar as it does not require you to rotate your body to get breath as you do when swimming the front crawl. It also helps to lengthen the chest muscles whilst shortening the back muscles. This is an important counteraction to the normal tendency of pregnancy to pull your shoulders and spine forward as the weight of your uterus increases.
How far into my pregnancy can I swim?
You can swim right up until the end of your pregnancy! Provided you feel comfortable enough to get in the pool and that you have not experienced any early signs of labour, swimming will continue to be beneficial to you all the way up until birth. You should make your routine less strenuous as your pregnancy goes on, always making sure that you are not over exhausting yourself, but working up a little sweat and raising your heart rate is good for you all the way through pregnancy.
What precautions do I need to take when swimming during pregnancy?
- As with all exercise during pregnancy, do not push yourself too hard. While you should be aiming to increase your heart rate you should still be able to hold a conversation while you are moving. When you get out of the pool, you should still feel as though you have energy to do more, rather than feeling exhausted.
- Begin and end each session with a warm up and cool down - marching on the spot or very slow swimming are good ideas, combine these with stretching exercises.
- Make sure that you are well hydrated and that you have had an energy boosting snack prior to getting into the swimming pool so that your body is well fuelled for a workout. Avoid having had a large meal too close to swimming however, as this can make you feel unwell.
- Take great care when walking around the pool and in the changing rooms. Your balance isn't as good when you are pregnant and the floor can be very slippery.
- Only exercise in chlorinated pools, as these will be clean. Save your plans for river or lake swimming until after you have had the baby.
- If you are having swimming lessons or attending an aqua aerobics class then make sure that your instructor knows how far into your pregnancy you are.
- Stop swimming immediately if you have any pain or bleeding.