The benefits of swimming during pregnancy
Swimming is great exercise because it uses both large muscle groups (arms and legs). Though low-impact, it provides good cardiovascular benefits and allows expectant women to feel weightless despite the extra pounds added by pregnancy. It also poses a very low risk of injury.
Any type of aerobic exercise helps increase the body’s ability to process and use oxygen, which is important for you and your baby. So swimming also improves circulation, increases muscle tone and strength, and builds endurance. If you swim, you’ll burn calories, feel less fatigued, sleep better, and cope better with pregnancy’s physical and emotional challenges.
Swimming is one of the safest forms of exercise. If you swam regularly before pregnancy, you should be able to continue without much modification. If you didn’t swim or exercise at all, you should still be able to swim, but check with your doctor or midwife first. You’ll need to start slowly, stretch well during a gradual warm-up and cooldown, and not overexert yourself.
When you’re in the water, it can be easy to forget to stay well-hydrated. James M. Pivarnik, Ph.D., of Michigan State University, says that while there is no official recommendation for how much water pregnant women should drink while exercising, a good guideline is to drink one cup (8 ounces) before you start your swim, one cup for every 20 minutes of exercise, and one cup after you get out of the pool. In hot and/or humid weather, you’ll need more.
If you can summon the energy, swim for at least 30 minutes daily. Swimming first thing in the morning may counteract nausea and energize you for the rest of the day.
Your pregnancy won’t require you to cut down on swimming as you grow because it’s easy on expectant moms. You probably won’t need to modify your regimen, but a maternity swimsuit may be more comfortable as your belly expands.
The water supports your joints and ligaments as you exercise, preventing injury and also protecting you against overheating. The breast stroke is particularly beneficial in the third trimester, because it lengthens the chest muscles and shortens the back muscles, two areas that typically become misaligned as your body changes during pregnancy, says Julie Tupler, RN, certified personal trainer, and founder of Maternal Fitness, a fitness program for new and expectant moms in New York City. Use a snorkel to relieve the pressure on your neck created when you bob up and down for air.
Best strokes for pregnancy
The breaststroke is probably your best bet while pregnant since it requires no rotation of the torso (as does the front crawl) and requires less exertion. Also, it helps counteract the increased strain in the back due to the belly weight of pregnancy. While pregnancy forces the spine and shoulders to round forward and the pelvis to tilt out of alignment, the breaststroke gently strengthens the muscles and counteracts that tendency.
Another good stroke is the backstroke. Because the water reduces the effects of gravity on your body, you can lie on your back to do the backstroke without risking the impaired blood flow such exercises can cause on dry land.