Safety of pregnant women in the swimming pool

As an Aqua Natal instructor I can have up to 15 pregnant women at various stages of pregnancy in the pool at one time. After 12 weeks the bump begins to show at the front of the mother’s body and their posture is changing with their ligaments becoming more flexible and lax. From then on the body adjusts and changes to protect and nurture the growing foetus. The bump size depends on the stage they are in (trimester), the parents’ genetics and their eating habits.

A woman gets told that swimming or water exercise is one of the best forms of exercise when pregnant. As well as aqua aerobics they may go swimming in public sessions alone, with their partner or with their family.

Having to rescue a pregnant woman is not common so it is not normally taught on your NPLQ but with the centres that hosts Aqua Natal class I recommend it is covered in their staff training. Generally aqua aerobics is classified as low risk due to its controlled and structure nature, with a qualified instructor standing giving exact exercises. Both the lifeguard and the instructor are aware of their roles and responsibilities in an emergency. Would you know what to do if you had to rescue a pregnant woman?

A pregnant woman has a risk of fainting from the 1st Trimester (1-13 weeks) but it’s more common during the 2nd Trimester (13- 26 weeks) due to hormonal changes. If fainting did occur when at the facility you need to be aware of how you position a pregnant woman in the recovery position. It is vital to lay her on her left side, placing a float or towel under the bump to support the baby. This is to provide maximum blood supply to the baby.

If you ever have a situation where the woman is laying on her back then you need to be attentive to the weight/size of her bump. With the weight of the uterus going down it can cause pressure on the vena cava compromising venous return to the heart, which can cause dizziness or nausea.

Another condition a pregnant woman has a risk of developing is gestational diabetes; the woman may have fainted due to low sugar levels. It is a condition that the midwives repeatedly test for during the 9 months, the mother may have never had any issues before and returns back to normal post birth but the fact she has diabetes during that time frame is like anyone else who suffers from this condition.

A woman who is in the 3rd trimester (26-40 weeks) should not lay on her front and for obvious reasons it is actually pretty impossible to do so. When it comes to rescuing a pregnant woman there are some adaptions that need to be made. When lifting the pregnant casualty out of the water, the regular way (front first) is going to be challenging to lift them high out of the water, high enough to not cause the baby bump any trauma, especially when you are taught on your NPLQ to lift the casualty to the hips or waist.

I advise in the recovery of a pregnant woman for her to leave the pool backwards and for the quick, safe and easy means of recovery for the team of lifeguards this would be to use the spinal board. The Ferno Pool Extraction Board (PXB) can be used for a range of casualties and methods will differ for each casualty, making it the best board to use in this situation.

To summarise rescuing a pregnant woman:

Leave the pool backward
Position left lateral recovery position with flotation aid to support the baby
Reassure her and other women

The facility that you work in will have risk assessments for the programmes they run, they will have EAP for their members of staff and staff training is a must. I suggest that you address/ look at your rescue procedure for the pregnant community.

Aquatic Rehabilitation and Exercise Academy


The Lifeguard Candidate Manual, generation 9; 2018 – American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

AEA Aquatic Fitness Professional manual – 6th Edition; 2010