When you’re carrying upwards of 20 extra pounds, the last thing you may be in the mood for is exercise. But in a pool (or any other body of water, for that matter) you weigh just a tenth of what you do on land. Which means bobbing weightlessly, feeling both lighter and more limber, can be a real treat. In fact swimming while pregnant just might be the perfect activity for expecting women, offering not only the benefits of exercise but also relief from a number of common pregnancy aches and pains.
BENEFITS OF SWIMMING WHILE PREGNANTSwimming is a gentle way to work toward your goal of 30 minutes most days of prenatal exercise — without aggravating your loosening joints. In addition to resulting in plenty of fitness-related benefits your body and your baby along with reprieve for your tired muscles and joints, swimming during pregnancy can also help:
- Relieve ankle and foot swelling. Submersing your limbs in water helps push fluids from your tissues back into your veins (where it goes to your kidneys and then out through your urine). It also boosts your circulation, which keeps blood from pooling in the lower limbs.
- Ease sciatic pain: Baby’s floating right along with you (instead of pressing down on your sciatic nerve).
- Reduce morning sickness: Many women report that the cool water provides welcome relief from nausea.
- Keep you cool: It’s a hard thing to do when those pregnantsweat glands are on overdrive — but a dip in a cool pool can help, especially when the temperatures soar outside.
- Improve your labor & delivery experience: Swimming maintains muscle tone and increases your endurance — both of which you’ll be thankful for when it comes time to push baby out.
A few tips to avoid any potential pitfalls of swimming during pregnancy:
- Check for water safety. Research the body of water you wish to swim in to prevent water-borne illness and ensure it’s safe to swim in. While for the most part a public beach is perfectly fine, you may want to be more cautious with smaller bodies of water. Your best bet to avoid contamination: Stick with workouts in properly-chlorinated pools.
- Avoid the hot tub. Spending more than 10 minutes in a hot tub, where water circulation can keep temperatures around 104 F, can raise your body temperature above 102.2 F. This can increase the risk for miscarriage, brain and spinal cord abnormalities — especially if your body temperature gets that high during the first four to six weeks of pregnancy. (This, of course, doesn’t mean your warm bath is unsafe — still water doesn’t hold high temperatures for quite as long, so you won’t have to worry about overheating in your own tub.)
- Tread carefully. Remember, a baby belly can throw off your center of gravity. So be extra cautious when walking on slippery surfaces, including the pool deck and the locker room.
- Step into the pool. Or slide in. Your growing baby isn’t equipped to handle the bubbles that form inside the body when you quickly change altitudes under the pressure of the water (it’s why scuba diving is a big no-no). And the impact of diving into water isn’t worth the potential risk.
- Don’t hold your breath. Your baby needs oxygen — so be sure to keep your breathing steady and continuous while you’re swimming.
- Keep hydrated. While you won’t feel like you’re sweating like you do on a long run, you still do sweat (and risk overheating) when you swim. So be sure to drink 500 mL (about a water-bottle’s worth) of water about two hours before your workout, and place a water bottle at the pool’s edge to sip throughout the swim session.
- Fuel up. Regardless of your workouts, you’ll need about 300 extra calories per day to fuel your pregnancy in your second trimester on. Your specific caloric need varies depending on how long and far you swim, your weight and more — so look to your practitioner for specific guidelines.Good snacks include fruit, toast or a small bowl of cereal with milk — you’ll want a light bite containing easily-digestible carbs without much fat, fiber or loads of heavy protein (all of which can take longer to digest and lead to an uncomfortable workout). And as for that rule about avoiding eating before you swim? Not true — although you may want to avoid having a heavy meal within an hour of jumping in (you’re already prone to heartburn during pregnancy). Your best bet is to finish up your pre-workout snack at least 30 minutes before you dunk, then look forward to a protein-rich post-workout snack like Greek yogurt or a small turkey sandwich.
Once your belly gets too big for your old one-piece suits, a two-piece gives your belly room to grow. If you feel self-conscious about revealing your baby belly, you can always opt for a tankini. And plenty of brands that sell regular swimsuits also offer maternity swimwear lines,
Whether or not you’ve swum for exercise before, jumping in a pool can be intimidating without a workout in mind. To the rescue: These suggested swim workouts. If the going gets tough, just float...your break will be well-deserved. And don’t forget to stretch afterward!
For NewbiesIf you swam once in a blue moon before pregnancy, most gyms with pools offer water aerobics classes, many of which are specifically designed for expectant moms. Considering swimming laps? Complete as many as you can comfortably perform, eventually working up to 30 minutes of swimming three to four days a week. Remember to maintain a moderate pace that doesn’t leave you breathless. (If your head were above water, you would be able to carry on a conversation comfortably.)
Because swimming straight laps can get a little dull, try these swim exercises to beat boredom. Pick your three favorites, and do 10 minutes of each for a full 30-minute workout:
- Stroke and Crawl: Swim one length of breast stroke, then swim back with one length of front crawl.
- Double-Backstroke: Swim backstroke, but instead of alternating arms, do two strokes with each arm before alternating.
- Sprint and Slow: Alternate between one lap of any stroke at your fastest pace, then swim back at a recovery pace that lets you catch your breath.
- Practice Flutter and Frog Kicks: Grab a kick board and flutter kick one lap, then frog kick back to start.
Intermediate and advanced swimmers might set out for a 2,000-yard swim (i.e., 80 laps in a 25-yard pool.) You can try this workout using your favorite stroke or alternating between different ones:
- 5 sets of 100 yards (4 laps) at a moderate-pace, with 10 to 20 seconds rest between each set. Rest and stretch for one minute when you’re done.
- 6 sets of 50 yards (2 laps), focusing on your form. Rest 20 to 30 seconds between sets. Rest for 1 minute when you’re done.
- 10 sets of 100 yards (4 laps), focusing on speed with effort that’s about an eight on a scale of one to 10. Rest 10 to 30 seconds between sets. Rest for 1 minute when you’re done.
- Grab a kickboard and do 4 laps, just kicking.
- Ditch the kick board and swim four more laps at an easy pace to cool down.
Regardless of your prenatal fitness level, swimming can be hard work — which means it’s normal to experience some aches and pains as you take to the water with your baby belly. Ultimately, you’re the best judge of your limits. So if you feel any sharp pain, shortness of breath, faintness, vaginal bleeding, dizziness,contractions, absence of fetal movements or anything else that just strikes you as not quite right, stop your workout immediately and contact your practitioner.