Swimming in pregnancy

Swimming and doing other exercises in water is a particularly good way to stay active during pregnancy.

The water supports your body and it’s a low-impact exercise for your joints and ligaments. Swimming is an aerobic and strength conditioning exercise too – and 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 are a seasoned swimmer, aim to swim for 30 minutes, between four 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 will be very comfortable and relaxing.

Watch your swimming stroke

It’s important to find a swimming stroke that’s 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. If you have symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), this action can also cause pain.

Avoid overheating

It can be tricky to know when your body is getting too warm when you’re swimming because the water makes you feel cooler. Because of this, if you’re exercising in water 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.

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.

Aquanatal classes

If you like the idea of doing exercises in a group with other pregnant women, aquanatal classes are a good choice as the classes are designed for pregnant women. It’s a good way to meet your pregnant neighbours! A typical class may include tips about exercising and posture, a warm-up session, aerobic exercises, strength exercises, breathing awareness and stretching. Sometimes the sessions are carried out to music. Look on local forums and noticeboards and ask at local gyms 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 ask you to find another class – you can look on local forums and noticeboards or ask at gyms.

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 they can answer these questions. 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.

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  1. Katz VL (1996) ‘Water exercise in pregnancy’, Seminars in Perinatology, 20 (4): 285–91: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8888454 
  2. ACPWH (2010) Aquanatal Guidelines: Guidance on antenatal and postnatal exercises in water, Bathgate, Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health: http://www.csp.org.uk/sites/files/csp/secure/acpwh-aquanatal_copy.pdf
  3. Juhl M, Kogevinas M, Andersen PK, Andersen AM, Olsen J (2010) ‘Is swimming during pregnancy a safe exercise?’, Epidemiology, 21 (2): 253–8: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20110815
  4. RCOG (2006) Recreational Exercise and Pregnancy: Information for you, London, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/recreational-exercise-and-pregnancy.pdf.
  5.  RCOG (2006) Exercise in Pregnancy: Statement No. 4, London, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/statements/statement-no-4.pdf 
  6. NHS Start4Life [accessed 23 February 2015] ‘Exercise of the week #1: try out aqua aerobics’ http://www.nhs.uk/start4life/baby-talk/exercise-of-the-week-1-try-out-aqua-aerobics


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Last reviewed on February 1st, 2015. Next review date February 1st, 2018.

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