Swimming when pregnant

Haylley Pittam

The current American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology (ACOG) guidelines recommend for a pregnant woman to exercise 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week. Their list of exercises include walking, stationary bike, modified yoga and pilates, as well as swimming and aqua aerobics. Moderate intensity means you are moving enough to raise your heart rate and start sweating while being able to talk normally, but not sing.

Exercising for 150 minutes equates to 30 minutes a day, five days a week (or into smaller 10 minutes workouts throughout each day). If you are healthy and your pregnancy is normal, it is safe to continue most types of exercise but you may need to make a few changes.

Swimming and aqua aerobics are some of the safest forms of exercise whilst pregnant and participating in either for 30 minutes uses the majority of the body’s muscles. The water will support your weight and bump so you avoid stress, injury and muscle strains. During the nine months of pregnancy your posture (hips, shoulders, spine and head position) changes and the aches and pains associated with these changes, such as back ache, can be eased and swimming will strengthen the postural muscles.

Swimming is a great way to stay active as it increases and improves your circulation, strengthens your muscles and keeps you toned. Being submerged in the water also helps to improve the lymphatic system and will help to reduce swelling in legs, feet and hands. The ideal temperature of the water is 29-30 degrees which will allow the body temperature to be cooler and therefore reducing any heat stress to the foetus.

As you go through the pregnancy and your baby begins to grow, (the bump gets bigger) being in the water allows you to feel weightless (due to the water’s buoyancy) and the therapeutic environment allows you to feel calm. As you reach the last stage of your pregnancy the comfort of the water means you do not have to stop.


Swimming do’s & dont’s:

  • You can swim front crawl and backstroke as laying on your back and swimming backstroke does not cause any risk to yourself nor your baby whereas on land there is a restricted time advised for lying on your back due to impaired blood flow.

  • I highly recommend for you to stop swimming breaststroke from the first trimester. Due to the pelvic girdle changing and becoming loose over the 9 months preparing for birth means the pelvis is unstable. As you swim breaststroke you are taking your legs out wide and opening up the pelvis. This can cause pelvic girdle pain (PGP) or discomfort, especially if you are suffering with public symphysis disorder (PSD).

  • Swim with your head down in the water when doing frontcrawl so your posture alignment is correct. As you swim make sure you breathing in to the side and not lifting your head straight up as this will cause pain and discomfort in the neck.

  • Take extra breaks if needed. Please remember to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. You may not feel hot and sweaty in the water but you have still exercised and worked your muscles so please do drink a glass of water during and after.

  • You will feel hungry after swimming (this is very normal for everyone it is due to the calories burnt which is higher in the water than on land as well as the cooling effect on the body) so please pack yourself a snack such as a banana or chocolate milkshake rather than reaching for the bacon sandwich and slice of cake.

Please note physical activity does not increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery


References:July 2017 – the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists