Exercise in Pregnancy: Spotlight on Swimming


As part of our series of articles focussing on exercise during pregnancy, this month we’re looking at swimming. Swimming is a great form of exercise for everybody, pregnant or not, and is often referred to as a ‘complete sport’, meaning that alongside working almost all of your muscles, it also improves cardiovascular fitness, endurance and general strength.

There are some specific benefits for expectant mothers which make swimming particularly good during the months leading up to birth.

Benefits of swimming while pregnant:

  • Safe aerobic exercise: By swimming regularly, you can improve your circulation, strengthen your heart and boost oxygen levels for your entire body. You’ll find you have more energy, maintain a healthy weight and even sleep better when you stick to a good exercise routine.
  • Gentle on joints: During pregnancy, many women experience a loosening of the joints, as the pelvis widens in preparation. Other joints, especially knees and ankles, may become more painful as you gain weight, putting increased pressure on those areas. While swimming, the water supports joints and ligaments, making it the ideal low-impact exercise. You’ll feel lighter thanks to the buoyancy of the water, allowing you to work out without pain.
  • Strengthen key muscles: Carrying a baby places a lot of strain on the spine and pelvic muscles. Swimming while pregnant can help you to maintain good posture and strengthen the muscles in your shoulders and back.
  • Alleviate swelling: Immersing the body in water can help to reduce fluid retention and swelling that is common in pregnancy, especially in the lower limbs.
  • Keep cool and ease morning sickness: Many women report that feelings of sickness and nausea are reduced while they swim. Whether you’re suffering with sickness or not, the cool water of a swimming pool can be a welcome relief, especially during the later stages of pregnancy.

Safety tips for swimming while pregnant:

While swimming is generally considered to be an extremely safe sport during pregnancy, you should always be cautious when it comes to your health. As with any exercise, if you feel any pain or discomfort you should stop immediately, and take care not to over-exert yourself. While you’re in the water, it can be hard to remember to stay hydrated, as you will be cooler and may not feel thirsty. Remember not to swim for long periods, and have a drink of water before you start and when you get out of the pool.

There’s no evidence to suggest that the chlorine in a swimming pool is harmful to you or your baby during pregnancy, but you may find it irritating to your skin or eyes, which can be particularly sensitive at this time. If this is the case, you could try wearing goggles to protect your eyes. If you really can’t tolerate the chemicals in the water, you may prefer swimming in a saltwater pool, which does not use chlorine to disinfect the water.

While swimming in a normal public pool is a great form of pregnancy exercise, the same doesn’t apply to hot tubs and Jacuzzis typically found at spas and other pools, especially in the early weeks. This is because you run the risk of overheating due to the temperature of the water, which can be harmful to an unborn baby.

Choose your stroke according to what feels most comfortable. In the third trimester you may find breaststroke particularly helpful for strengthening your back muscles as your body grows larger.

Aqua Aerobics

Many swimming pools or health centres run aqua aerobics classics specifically tailored for pre-natal exercise, known as aqua natal classes. If this isn’t a possibility in your area, you can still take a normal aqua aerobics class, but make sure you inform the instructor that you are pregnant. This is a great option for less confident swimmers who still want to gain all the benefits of exercising in water during pregnancy. Not only that, as a more social activity than swimming alone, you’ll meet other expectant mothers going through the same physical changes as you.