Tommy's PregnancyHub

Swimming in pregnancy

Swimming and doing other exercises in water is a particularly good way to stay active during pregnancy.
How not to overheat

One tip to avoid overheating is to take a drink with you when you’re in the pool and drink small amounts regularly while swimming or doing a class.

Swimming is a low-impact exercise for your joints and ligaments because the water supports your body. Swimming is an aerobic and strength conditioning exercise too. Both of these have been shown to shorten labour and decrease the risk of complications at birth.

Benefits of swimming in pregnancy

As well as being good for your circulation, swimming regularly will improve your muscle tone and increase your endurance. It may also give you more energy and help you sleep better.

If you were used to swimming before pregnancy, aim for 30 minutes, between 4 times a week and daily. If you’re new to it, or haven’t done much swimming before, start off slowly with 15 minutes at a time and build up gradually.

Some women worry that the chemicals used to disinfect swimming pools could harm their baby, but there is no evidence to suggest that your baby could be at risk.

You can swim throughout your pregnancy, although you may find it helps to avoid busy times at the pool. As your bump grows, the feeling of weightlessness in the water should be very comfortable and relaxing.

“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's 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.

Avoid the breast stroke as the kicking action (whip kick) can cause back pain if your spine is not aligned correctly. It can also be painful if you have symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), also known as pelvic girdle pain (PGP).

Avoid overheating

It can be tricky to know if your body is getting too warm when you’re swimming because the water makes you feel cooler. Because of this, the temperature of the water should not be more than 32˚C. If there isn’t a sign up telling you what the water temperature is, ask your aquanatal teacher or a member of the pool staff.

Aquanatal classes

If you like the idea of doing exercises in a group, aquanatal classes are a good choice because they are designed specifically for pregnant women. It’s a good way to meet your pregnant neighbours too. 

What to expect when you go to class

A typical aquanatal class may include:

  • tips about exercising and posture
  • 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 your local gyms and leisure centres to find sessions.

Aqua aerobic classes

Aqua aerobics classes are not specific to pregnancy. If you’ve been going to one before you became pregnant, tell the instructor you are pregnant. If they are qualified to continue to instruct you, they will. Otherwise they may suggest another class that would be better suited.

Aqua aerobics is a set of aerobic exercises that are performed in chest-deep water. They are great for women who are less confident swimmers. You might also use floats and weights. You will warm up and cool down after each session.

How can I be confident that my instructor is qualified?

There are many water exercise instructor qualifications. You should ensure that they are qualified with a governing body such as the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA).

Ask what specifically qualifies them to teach pregnant women and how they adapt the classes. It’s important that you are happy with their answers. If they do not adapt the class, and say only that you should take it at a slower pace you might want to look elsewhere.

  1. Katz VL (1996). Water exercise in pregnancy. Seminars in Perinatology, 20 (4): 285–91. 
  2. ACPWH (2010). Aquanatal Guidelines: Guidance on antenatal and postnatal exercises in water, Bathgate, Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health.
  3. Juhl M, Kogevinas M, Andersen PK, Andersen AM, Olsen J (2010). Is swimming during pregnancy a safe exercise? Epidemiology, 21 (2): 253–8.
  4. RCOG (2006). Recreational Exercise and Pregnancy: Information for you, London, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
  5.  RCOG (2006). Exercise in Pregnancy: Statement No. 4, London, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. 
  6. NHS Start4Life. Exercising in pregnancy.
Review dates
Reviewed: 31 July 2018
Next review: 31 July 2021

This content is currently being reviewed by our team. Updated information will be coming soon.