Ross Johnston, a Swim 4 Life swimming coach at Virgin Active says, “Swimming is a great way for pregnant women to exercise, and it’s generally considered very safe. But check with your doctor before you take the plunge.”
Swimming during pregnancy helps to keep you fit, which will make it easier to adapt to pregnancy. It may also help you to feel better about your changing body. Swimming is a particularly good exercise in pregnancy, as the water helps to support your extra weight. This can be a huge relief, especially in the third trimester. And unlike some other forms of aerobic exercise, swimming helps you to feel cool.
Johnston says, “If you swam consistently before you got pregnant, you should be able to continue. If you didn’t exercise at all, you should still be able to swim now — you’ll just need to start slowly. Do some gentle stretching beforehand, do a few warm-up and cool down laps, and don’t over-exert yourself. You’ll learn how to work out at the appropriate intensity by listening to your body and you should always come out of the pool feeling that you could do more. Choose a stroke that you enjoy and feels comfortable. Alternating between swimming on your front, and floating on your back, while gently kicking your legs, will give you a good all-round workout. Take care not to arch your back.
Choose a swimming stroke other than breaststroke if you have any problems with pain at the front of your pelvis, as it may make the pain worse. You may want to ask your doctor to refer you to a physiotherapist. Some women find they can swim breaststroke again following treatment.”
First trimester tips
If you’ve got the energy go for a swim for at least 20 minutes every other day. Swimming first thing in the morning may help you to fend off morning sickness and energise you for the rest of the day.
Second trimester tips
You don’t need to cut down on swimming as your baby grows. The water supports your joints as you exercise, protecting you against injury.
Third trimester tips
You shouldn’t need to change your routine, but a maternity swimsuit will be more comfortable now to accommodate your growing baby. You can carry on swimming right up to the end of your pregnancy, but not after your waters have broken.
The water itself poses no risk to you or your baby, research hasn’t found any health hazards for healthy pregnant women from the bacteria, chlorine, or other chemicals in pools. But do skip the hot tub and sauna, as overheating can hamper the development of a growing foetus, according to various studies. It too helps relieve some of the back pain and you should feel your little one kicking while you swim!
Swimming also helps to:
- improve circulation
- boost heart and lung function
- increase muscle tone and strength
- build endurance
- reduce swelling and fluid retention
- burn calories, which helps to manage weight gain
- promote good sleep
- fend off fatigue
- ease aches and pains
After the birth
It depends on how fit you were when you had your baby, and how straightforward your labour was. If you did regular exercise up until the end of your pregnancy, and your baby’s birth went smoothly, you can do some light exercise and stretching soon after the birth.
If you had a caesarean, it will take a while to recover from your baby’s birth. Think of the first six weeks or so as the healing phase. You may be feeling very tired, so don’t do too much, too soon. Try to wait until after your postnatal check, at between six weeks and eight weeks after the birth, before taking up exercise other than walking.
Leaking a little urine when you cough, sneeze or laugh is common after having a baby. It can be hard not to leak when you’re doing exercise, too. That’s why you should start strengthening your pelvic floor before returning to exercise.
You should avoid swimming until you have had your postnatal check and have had seven days without any postnatal bleeding or discharge. This is to prevent infection. You may need to wait longer if you had a caesarean or stitches. Your Gynaecologist will be able to tell you when it is safe for you to start swimming.
It’s best not to do sit-ups and aerobic exercise, such as running, aerobics or tennis, until your pelvic floor has recovered. Vigorous exercise can put a big strain on your pelvic floor muscles… When you do exercises in water, your abdominal muscles are engaged and lengthened gently because they’re working to keep you balanced and the buoyancy of the water makes it easier to maintain your core stability making swimming an ideal form of exercise.
Pregnancy hormones can also affect your joints for up to six months after childbirth. So be careful not to do too much high-impact activity too soon, if you are not used to this type of exercise- which is why swimming is the ideal way to get back into shape.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet, and taking regular exercise, will give you the best chance of returning to a healthy weight after having a baby. This approach will help your baby weight to fall off gradually and safely and will increase the chance of the weight staying off. The important thing is to develop good habits that you can keep up.
Johnston cautions over-doing it after the birth. “If you are unsure, approach the swimming coach or a personal trainer at Virgin Active and get some guidance about how to get in the swim again! Remember that your body needs time to recover from labour and birth. Give yourself plenty of time to get back in shape, and don’t despair if the weight doesn’t fall off immediately.”