pregnancy and swimming

So you’re pregnant. Congratulations!

That’s no reason to stop exercising!

Pregnancy and Swimming: some simple, practical advice from an experienced mother and swimmer.

Safety first!

OK – before we go too far into this post, here come the very important safety considerations:

1. If you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, please consult your doctor before continuing or commencing an exercise program of any kind;

2. Continue to consult your doctor throughout your pregnancy and ensure your exercise program is closely monitored and managed.

Now the story so far…

I’ve had four kids. I also swim regularly, as I have done for many years. I’ve somehow managed to balance being pregnant, being a mum and still doing some swimming for fun and fitness and wanted to share some of my experiences with other “swim-mums”.

There are five really great reasons for exercising during pregnancy:

1. It helps keep mum healthier and happier (‘me time’);

2. It helps keep your growing baby healthier;

3. It helps maintain your own fitness and strength making carrying the baby a little easier;

4. It helps maintain your own fitness and strength making delivery a little easier;

5. It helps maintain your fitness and strength helping with post-delivery recovery.

So there are lots of good reasons to keep training while pregnant – (obviously taking heed of the need to seek and continue to consult medical advice during your pregnancy).

I wanted to share with you some ideas, some learning and some real-life experiences that may help you in your efforts to stay fit and health during your pregnancy and have a happy healthy baby at the end of it.

Eight Practical Swimming Tips for the Mother on the Move:

1. Do what you can. Some days you feel great and exercise is relatively easy. Other days you feel tired, fatigued, lethargic and even nauseous. Forget the “periodised” plan. Train as you feel and don’t feel guilty for having a day off when you need to;

2. Exercise with a friend! There is always a chance that something could go wrong so the smart thing to do is to train with a squad or at the very least with a friend;

3. Monitor yourself very closely when exercising. Monitor your temperature, heart rate, your pain and discomfort, your breathing and your nausea throughout any training session and be prepared to slow down or stop if you need to;

4. Drink regularly. The baby has a big thirst! It is growing and developing and needs a good supply of fluid. And when you exercise your own need for fluid increases. So make sure you drink regularly before, during and after your pregnancy exercise program;

5. Allow yourself extra time for rest, recovery and sleep. As a general rule, for every 30 minutes of exercise I do during pregnancy, I allow an extra 60 minutes for rest, recovery and sleep;

6. Remember that the baby is “selfish”. The baby you are carrying is very good at taking care of itself and will “fight back” if you push it too hard. It is not uncommon for expectant mums to feel a little dizzy during exercise as working muscles, lungs and heart compete for blood and oxygen with a growing baby. Take it easy – “listen” to the baby;

7. Be careful with the old “eating for two thinking”. This is a big mistake that a lot of mums make. They eat too much of the wrong types of food during their pregnancy and brush it off as “I am eating for two”. Sure, you deserve a little treat now and then: being pregnant can be really tough but the baby is not a chocolate junkie and is not a pizza addict – you are!;

8. Don’t listen to “old wives tales”. Every woman who has ever had a baby has some good old fashioned home spun advice about what to do, what not to do, what every little sign means etc. In the “old days” pregnant women did very little exercise believing that it was harmful for the baby. As long as pregnant women closely monitor and manage their exercise program in consultation with their doctor, exercise is great for both mum and bub!

As time goes by take it easy-er.

As you travel through your pregnancy, and you get bigger remember to decrease your exercise expectations accordingly! It’s easy to forget how much of your body is working for the baby. Your heart rate will be higher than usual, your weight will be increased and your total blood volume will be larger meaning you can feel a bit slow and sluggish making those “not so easy to get going days” even tougher.

Swimming is one of the best exercises you can do while you’re pregnant. You get a fantastic overall body workout with full support from the water. No weight-bearing stuff to damage your already stretching / stretched ligaments but all the same…… work within your limits, monitor your body throughout your workout and feel free to rest anytime you need to.

Tumble Turns and Pregnancy.

A word of caution though about “Tumble turns” during pregnancy: you can keep on “tumbling” as long as you feel capable of doing them! There is generally no harm done to your baby by you tumbling around in water – after all, that’s what your baby is doing all the time. However, you may get to the point where it is not terribly comfortable for you to tumble turn. Don’t feel bad! When that “basketball” comes out, you’ll be able to tumble again! Just imagine how hard tumble turns would be if you had to do them over the top of a basketball each time – ’cause that’s what you are basically doing later in your pregnancy!

Form strokes, i.e. butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke.

If you’re anything like me, your ability to do form strokes decreases as you grow bigger (and I used to do a decent medley!).

I found the first thing that deteriorated during my pregnancies was butterfly, (I found it got much harder to maintain enough power in my kick to breath easily).

Then the breaststroke went due to my lower back not coping well with ‘frog’ kicking, when my ligaments started to stretch significantly. Lastly the backstroke went, as even being supported in the water, I felt my insides were being crushed when on my back (much like when lying in bed). So the last couple of months of swimming when pregnant are less interesting, due to being relegated to freestyle only. (If you’re a triathlete, I guess that wouldn’t bother you so much!)

Decreasing training load.

Reducing your swimming training load over your pregnancy is normal and natural. This was always a disappointment to me but it is something you have to accept. Being realistic about having to reduce the amount of laps you do is hard to swallow, however, I keep telling myself that ANY-thing is better than NO-thing. Do what you can for as long as you can. As a general rule:

•Trimester 1: Maintain the volume of your training (how much you do) and the frequency of your training  (how often you train) but decrease the intensity of your training (how hard you train);

•Trimester 2: Decrease the volume and intensity of your training but maintain the frequency of your training;

•Trimester 3: Decrease the volume, frequency and intensity of your training.

Note these are general guidelines only. Each individual swim-mum should monitor and manage her own training program during pregnancy carefully and in regular consultation with their medical practitioner.

 Keeping Motivated.

I have had different ‘mantras’ over my pregnancy to help keep me motivated and attending swimming practice regularly:

1. First trimester – “keeping it up”, “me time”, “feeling happier after every swim”, and “coping with daily activities better”.

2. Second trimester – “maintain as much fitness as possible”, “don’t put on too much weight”, “me time”.

3. Third trimester – “the more I do now, the quicker my recovery will be”, and “take every opportunity now, as it may not be so easy to get away for time to myself when I have a newborn!”

It is important to understand your own motivation for swimming while pregnant and to have clear goals and objectives for your training each trimester.

Regular swimming during pregnancy is about the three “mys”:

•My health;

•My baby;

•My time – i.e. time for me

I can’t imagine three better motivators for regular swimming, can you?


•So enjoy being pregnant, take care of yourself and keep fit and healthy: the benefits to you and your baby are immeasurable.

•Do what you can do: don’t dwell on what you can’t do – particularly in your second and third trimester.

•Do keep in regular communication with your medical practitioner throughout your pregnancy and work with them as you commence and continue a swimming program.