Whether you’re taking up swimming as a newbie to exercise or whether you are a seasoned gym-goer who is switching to swimming now that you’re pregnant, the guidelines remain the same.
Swimming in the first trimester
During this stage of pregnancy, the two main difficulties you will face are fatigue and nausea, caused by massive hormonal changes. Base your exercise routine around how you feel. If you really struggle with nausea in the morning but feel better during the day, try to fit your swimming in at lunchtime or after work.
If you find you are too tired at the end of the day, then go swimming before work. Ideally, 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week is best. If you can’t manage this, aim for building up to 30 minutes, three times per week.
Swimming as a form of exercise takes some getting used to. It is a full body exercise, using many of the body’s major muscles all at once. You will feel out of breath in the beginning. This is increased during pregnancy as your resting heart rate and breathing rate are now higher, resulting in feeling out of breath more easily.
The key is to start slowly and listen to your body. If you feel very out of breath after one length, try moving to the aqua aerobics or kiddies’ pool to do some water walking (walk widths across the shallow end of the pool, with the water reaching waist height or slightly above) to build up your fitness first.
Do this for a few weeks, trying the occasional length of swimming to see how you feel. If you can manage a few lengths at a time, aim for five minutes of continuous swimming, have a few minutes rest, then do another five minutes.
Repeating this pattern four to six times will give you a cumulative 30 minutes of exercise. Once you can do this, start increasing the number of minutes you swim for until you get to a continuous 30 minutes.
Make sure to rest when you feel you need to and remember to rehydrate while swimming too. At this stage you can swim any stroke you like.
Swimming in the second trimester
This stage is often referred to as the honeymoon stage of pregnancy as you’re normally over the morning sickness, you have far more energy and your bump is not hindering your movement as much as it will in the last trimester.
Exercising may feel easier, so you may be tempted to push yourself harder in the pool. This is fine if you do it by either increasing the frequency (number of times you swim per week) or duration (length of time spent swimming per session). Do not increase the intensity (speed) of your swims.
In other words, you should not feel exhausted during or after swimming. You should feel like you could’ve done a bit more. Your body systems are working overtime so exercising to the point of exhaustion is not recommended.
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Swimming in the third trimester
As you move into this last stage of pregnancy, there are a few things to keep in mind. However, the adjustments that need to be made at this point are minor in comparison with other forms of exercise. Swimming can be maintained right up until birth, which is why swimming is so appealing for the pregnant woman.
During these few months you may find that you tire easily, so decrease the duration of your swims back to approximately 30 minutes (if you increased them in the second trimester). Increasing the number of water breaks and rests will also help.
As your bump gets bigger, you might find the torso rotation of freestyle a little challenging. Breaststroke is often the recommended stroke to use as it eliminates the rotation and helps to strengthen the upper back muscles whilst simultaneously opening up the chest.
This helps to counteract negative postural changes (such as rounding of the upper back), which occur during pregnancy. There is one contraindication to swimming breaststroke when pregnant.
If you experience discomfort and/or pain in your pubic bone or have been diagnosed with SPD (symphysis pubis disorder), you will have to stick to freestyle or freestyle kicking with arms supported by a board.
The pushing-outward and pulling-inward motion of breaststroke kicking requires the adductor (inner thigh) and abductor muscles of the pelvis to work quite hard. This in turn requires pelvic stability.
However, a loosening of ligaments brought about by the presence of the hormone relaxin (which prepares the pelvis for the birth process by softening the ligaments and tendons) can lead to instability and excessive movement where the two pubic bones meet or at the back of the pelvis at the sacro-iliac joints.
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Benefits of swimming during pregnancy
- You strengthen and tone your muscles. It’s a heart-lung workout without any of the strain on your joints that you would get with other weight bearing exercises.
- The water acts as resistance as you move through it, thereby strengthening the muscles of your arms, legs, back and abdominals. This increased strength helps you bear the load of your heavier body better and can decrease aches and pains associated with pregnancy, for example back pain.
- Swimming is a safe form of managing your weight gain during pregnancy.
- Swimming builds up your fitness in terms of endurance (working at a constant rate for a given amount of time), which will be a great help when it comes to labour and delivery.
- The buoyancy of the water provides a wonderful relief from the heaviness of being pregnant. This weightlessness gives your body a break from the effects of gravity, allowing your lymphatic system to do its job, which reduces swelling. So if you’re suffering from swollen ankles, hands and feet, swimming will be a lifesaver.
What about contracting a UTI from the pool water?
There is currently no evidence to suggest that swimming while pregnant will increase your risk of contracting a UTI (urinary tract infection).
Properly maintained public or gym pools are monitored and kept hygienic with chlorine, which kills any germs that might enter the pool. If you are prone to UTIs, check with your gynae before starting your swimming.
What are the warning signs that you may have overworked yourself?
Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or sick are all signs that you’re pushing your body too hard. If you start to feel any of these when you are swimming, get to the edge, get out carefully and sip on some diluted fruit juice or water. As with any exercise while pregnant, if you experience any pain or vaginal bleeding you must contact your doctor as soon as possible.