Swimming in pregnancy

Swimming and exercising in water are good ways to stay active during pregnancy. As your bump grows, the feeling of weightlessness in the water should be relaxing and allow you to move around more comfortably.

Benefits of swimming in pregnancy

Being physically active during pregnancy has lots of benefits. On top of these, swimming puts less pressure on your joints as the water supports your weight. It is also a good way of keeping active if you have back pain or pelvic girdle pain (PGP)/symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD).

If you were used to swimming before pregnancy, it is safe to continue.  If you have not done much swimming before, start off slowly and build up gradually.
Some people worry that the chemicals used to disinfect swimming pools could harm their baby but there is no evidence for this.

“When my ankles swelled slightly my doctor recommended walking in the pool - not sure if there's any proof this helps, but it helped me.” Tanya

Watch your swimming stroke

It is important to find a swimming stroke that is comfortable for you.

You may want to wear goggles so you can swim with your head down. This keeps your body straighter, which is better for your back. Try to avoid making too many strong twisting movements, as these could overwork your deep tummy muscles or strain your ligaments.

You may find it painful to kick your legs in breast stroke style If you have pelvic girdle pain (PGP)/symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD).

Swimming and exercising in water safely

  • Speak to your midwife or doctor before exercising if you have a medical condition or have had any problems in previous pregnancies. You may need to take extra care or stop exercising.
  • If you are swimming or exercising in water for more than 30 minutes, you might want to take a bottle of water with you. Taking regular small sips will keep you hydrated.
  • Avoid diving or jumping in.
  • Avoid swimming in hot or very cold water.
  • If you feel unwell, leave the water straight away and contact your midwife or GP.

Aquanatal classes

If you like the idea of exercising in a group, you might like to try aquanatal classes. The exercises are designed for pregnancy and are a good way to meet other parents-to-be. 

A typical aquanatal class may include:

  • a warm-up session
  • aerobic exercises
  • strength exercises
  • breathing awareness
  • stretching.

Sometimes the exercises are carried out to music.

Check local forums and noticeboards or ask at your local gyms and leisure centres to find sessions.

Be careful not to confuse aquanatal classes with aqua aerobics. Aqua aerobics classes are not specific to pregnancy so you should check that the teacher is qualified to teach pregnant people. They should change some of the exercises so that they are suitable for you, not just tell you to take things more slowly. If they are not qualified or you are not happy with the changes they suggest, think about looking for another class or teacher.

Open water swimming

Swimming in lakes, rivers and seas is sometimes called ‘open water’ swimming. Some people say they find swimming outdoors boosts their mood and makes them feel free.

Open water swimming carries different risks to swimming in a pool. The water can be polluted, especially after heavy rainfall, and there is a higher risk of getting an infection.

The Environment Agency checks water quality in bathing areas, such as some beaches and lakes, during the summer. But rivers and other areas that are not marked as bathing areas are not checked and may be more polluted.

To lower the chance of getting an infection:

  • check with your midwife or doctor to make sure there are no medical reasons why you should not swim in open water
  • use an online water-quality checker for bathing water in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland
  • read any safety signs at the swimming site
  • avoid any water that has algae or scum
  • avoid swallowing water while you are swimming
  • cover any cuts or scratches on your skin with a waterproof plaster
  • wash yourself and your swimsuit/wetsuit afterwards.

Be aware that your changing body shape may mean you are not as strong in the water. Be careful of waves and swim within your limits. It is a good idea to swim with someone rather than alone.

More information

Read The Active Pregnancy Foundation's swimming guide, which is written in collaboration with experts, in the context of the national guidance and has top tips for during and after pregnancy. 

  1.  ACOG (2020). Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Committee Opinion Number 804. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2020/04/physical-activity-and-exercise-during-pregnancy-and-the-postpartum-period 
  2.  DHSC (2020). Physical activity guidelines: UK Chief Medical Officers’ report. Department of Health and Social Care https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/physical-activity-guidelines-uk-chief-medical-officers-report   
  3.  Villanueva CM, Font-Ribera L (2012) Health impact of disinfection by-products in swimming pools. Ann Ist Super Sanità 2012; 48(4): 387-396.
  4.  Pelvic Partnership. Exercise and PGP. http://pelvicpartnership.org.uk/treatment-exercise-and-pgp/ (Page last reviewed: 2017)
  5.  POGP (2018) Pregnancy Related Pelvic Girdle Pain For mothers to be and new mothers. Pelvic Obstetric & Gynaecological Physiotherapy https://pogp.csp.org.uk/publications/pregnancy-related-pelvic-girdle-pain-mothers-be-new-mothers 
  6.  Swim England. Swimming when pregnant. www.swimming.org/learntoswim/swimming-when-pregnant/# (Accessed Sept 2022)
  7.  Heywood M. Can You Open Water Swim While Pregnant? https://www.openwaterswimming.com/can-you-open-water-swim-while-pregnant/ (Page updated: 09/07/2021)
  8.  Barnes S, Pearson B. The Outdoor Swimming Society. Swimming for two: OSS survey on pregnancy and outdoor swimming tests positive. https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/swimming-for-two/ (Page accessed Oct 2022)
  9.  Public Health England, Environment Agency (2019) Guidance: Swim healthy. www.gov.uk/government/publications/swim-healthy-leaflet/swim-healthy 
Review dates
Reviewed: 29 May 2023
Next review: 29 May 2026