Swimming in pregnancy

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

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.

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.

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.

Download and print your weekly exercise goal plan

More about exercise in pregnancy

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    Can I exercise with SPD/PGP?

    Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), also known as pelvic girdle pain (PGP), is a fairly common pregnancy condition. It is caused by the way pelvic joints move during pregnancy. It can make exercise more difficult but there are things you can do.

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    Is it safe to exercise in pregnancy?

    Yes it is. In fact, if your pregnancy is uncomplicated, it is safer to exercise than not to as it brings down the risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

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    Exercise FAQs

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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. Exercising in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/pregnancy/exercising-in-pregnancy/


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    Last reviewed on July 31st, 2018. Next review date July 31st, 2021.

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    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By michelle saunders (not verified) on 23 Oct 2019 - 22:06

      thank you

    • By Karen (not verified) on 28 Aug 2019 - 14:13

      Is it safe to go in pool with toddler when pool is 34 deg? I would not be swimming but supporting toddler who is learning. I’m just pregnant.

    • By Sher (not verified) on 4 Jun 2019 - 19:39

      I suffer with PGP and wanted to go swimming but apart from avoiding breast stroke, what exercises should I do? I don't want to push it too far and then feel the effects afterwards? Is there a list available of what I can do?

    • By Anna (not verified) on 17 May 2019 - 01:13

      I love the way you are helping me with medical treatment

    • By Lesley (not verified) on 3 Feb 2019 - 01:01

      Planning on another pregnancy but am concerned about the pool temperature at my daughter's water babies class. Both this site and NHS say the temperature is above the safe level (think it's a hydrotherapy pool and can be up to 36 and the room temperature itself is VERY HOT too). Trying to get as much advice as I can and was horrified to see people including a professional instructor from another company stating their 'facts' on a Mumsnet thread telling an expectant mum that "they were fine so don't worry" and completely poo pooing the idea, even her GP didn't seem convinced. Anyone help with actual facts please?

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 14 Feb 2019 - 15:19

      Hi Lesley,

      Thank you for your comment. As you are planning a pregnancy then you should be fine to still take your daughter swimming, the advice is that in pregnancy the pool temperature should not be above 32 degrees. Once you are pregnant then you can make the decision if you feel confident enough to keep taking her. If the instructor and GP is happy with this then it would be down to your own personal choice of what you feel comfortable in doing. Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x

    • By Nicola (not verified) on 29 Jan 2019 - 12:16

      Hi there - I take my sons winning and the pool is 33 degrees - is this ok as I am not actually doing any swimming myself so wouldn’t be overheating just holding him in the water. It still feels pretty cool to me when in there but just wanted to check it is safe .....

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 29 Jan 2019 - 15:02

      Hi Nicola
      That temperature is fine. No swimming pool is going to be heated high enough to cause a concern. A hot tub/Jacuzzi however, is not advised at any gestation of pregnancy due to it's high temperatures.
      Enjoy swimming with your little water babies! Tommy's Midwife

    • By Nicola (not verified) on 1 Feb 2019 - 20:57

      Thank you!!

    • By Kate (not verified) on 22 Sep 2018 - 12:22

      I swim regularly outdoors and swam through last winter in a swim suit. Is there any advice regarding the safety of this activity when pregnant? My feeling is that the swim itself would be ok as the body protects the major organs but that the afterdrop might be problematic. Is there a lower limit for water temp for pregnant women? Thanks

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 24 Sep 2018 - 15:08

      Fantastic question Kate, but unfortunately one I am unable to answer. At Tommy's, we pride ourselves in giving only evidence based information. For most questions this is possible but I can find no recent research or guidance on lower water temperatures. If you do find anything that is based on good quality research, we would be very pleased to know about it. Sorry not to be able to help on this occasion.

    • By S (not verified) on 27 Jun 2018 - 08:29

      Is it ok to do the backstroke into your 3rd trimester? It's seems to be the only I'm comfortable swimming right now.

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 28 Jun 2018 - 11:59

      Thank you for your comment
      It's OK to continue swimming doing backstroke-you are still getting all the benefits of swimming whilst pregnant. We advise to avoid any strong twisting movements however as these could put strain on your ligaments which are already softened by the effect of the pregnancy hormones
      I have added a link with more information for you:-
      Take care
      Tommy's midwife

    • By JR (not verified) on 23 Mar 2018 - 22:53

      I went on a spa day and swam on and off for 2 hours (with a break in between) it was quite slow and I feel fine, but I'm worried I've done too much now!

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 26 Mar 2018 - 15:01

      How lovely, Sounds the perfect day. No you haven't done too much and I am sure your baby enjoyed it as much as you did. Take care

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