Pregnancy can suck. And exercising during pregnancy can suck even more. Especially during the late stages of the longest ten months of your life when your joints are revolting and you are pretty sure it's pee not amniotic fluid that leaks every time you sneeze. I have one word that will make everything better:
I may be slightly biased, but swimming truly is the best. It is the grand-daddy. It is what every healthcare professional will tell you is best whilst pregnant, and most will even tell you it is the best even when you are not with child. I sure will, but again, I may be slightly biased.
Swimming is what kept me fit throughout my pregnancies, but it's also my staple when I am not pregnant. It's what keeps my muscles strong, my heart pumping and my sanity sane. All good things for a healthy body and mind.
When I was pregnant, I asked my husband if he could make this happen...
He denied me of my wishes, but I'm still working on him. Can you imagine? I mean really. Some dream of luxurious ensuites with a soaker tub. I dream of a pool bedroom. It would make getting to the pool much easier in the morning - one roll!
I received a lovely email from a reader a few weeks ago wondering about my swim routine when I was pregnant (did it change?), and what it is like now that I have less time to myself (how do I get to the pool with a little one?).
My swim routine through my pregnancy was pretty much the same as it always has been. I swim three days a week with a local Masters swim club. When I sliced my hand on a tin can at nine months and had stitches, I kept going, gloved hand and all. I had to modify a few things, but overall I swam, and I swam, and I swam. Four weeks after delivery, I was back at it, albeit at a very gentle pace! It took me about four months to feel back to my pre-pregnancy self in the pool (especially with breaststroke).
I still aim for three swims a week, and somehow fit them in at a reasonable hour of the day thanks to flexible work hours (mine and my husbands). I recall one morning when B was really little, my husband had an early morning meeting, so I just brought B to the pool. He hung out on the deck (sleeping in his car seat), with my coach keeping an eye on him. I only had to do this once, but I was welcome to bring him any time. As B got more busy and mobile, I found my pool sessions dwindling to once, maybe twice a week. I talked about this here, and have been much better at getting my three session in over the last few months.
Masters Swimming Canada welcomes adult swimmers of all ages and abilities. I've swum with my Masters swim club for the last nine years. Each session starts with a warm-up, followed by a main set; we average 2-3,000m each session. Regular time trials keep us motivated and informed about how we are (or are not) progressing. If I have time, I like to add a few minutes of core work to the end of my sessions. My favourite exercise is head-up dolphin kick. Kind of like this, but without fins. This is a great ab and core exercise.
I realize that this routine may seem daunting if you're not a regular swimming, but you should know that just like most sports, there is something for everyone. For me, group swimming is all about routine, motivation and keeping up proper skill. As much as I love to swim, I know I wouldn't be anywhere near as consistent with it if I was going to open swim times on my own.
If you're weary of your abilities (the last time you swam was when the Canadian Red Cross swim levels were colour coded - loved those badges!), consider taking a private or semi-private lesson. Most public pools offer these at a very reasonable price. Make it a date night with your partner or find another mumma to do it with you.
If you are comfortable in water and can stay afloat you can always grab a flutter board and kick your legs for a good workout. Or use a float-belt (this might depend on your belly size and whether you can wear it higher) or hit the shallow end, and do some water running - this is a great option for pregnant runners who have had to stop running outdoors.
Or what about prenatal or postnatal aquafit? This is another great way to be in the pool, get your cardio and resistance workout in, and meet other healthy mummas. Check your local pool for class times.
If I still haven't convinced you that swimming is the best, pregnant or not, I will remind you again why you should be heading for the nearest pool for your next workout:
Compared to walking, running and aerobics, the loading forces on your joints during swimming are negligible. Less load means less risk of injury. This is especially important when your joints are already carrying more weight than they are used to while pregnant, AND you are super bendy from all of the relaxin flowing through your body - two factors that are asking for trouble.
Here's another reason why swimming is awesome: cardio + resistance = time saver
The resistance from the water provides great strength training for all of your muscles, including your heart. It's the best 2-for-1 deal in town for busy mummas trying to cram it all in.
Before you hop in the pool:
- Talk to your doctor or midwife if you are considering swimming or taking an aquafit class. Especially if you have not swum or done physical activity in a while. As with any activity during pregnancy, be cautious if you are starting something new - talk to your primary health care provider about your plans.
- Take it easy. Start off slowly. Just like with other cardio activities, you should not be working so hard that you cannot talk easily. Listen to your body and stop if anything doesn't feel right. Ask the instructor for exercise modification when needed.
- Don't eat right before you swim. A light snack is recommended so your bloodsugar isn't low, but don't swing by Mucho Burrito on your way to the pool. Swimming with a full belly, plus a baby belly, could be messy.
- Caution with breaststroke. The whip kick in breaststroke can put undue strain on your pubic bone, pelvis (SI joints) and the knees and hips, even in non-pregnant bodies. With the joint, ligament and tendon laxity during pregnancy, I don't recommend it. I stopped doing the whip kick about two months into my pregnancy. Instead I did breaststroke with a dolphin kick. If you are not familiar with this, keep it simple and stick to flutter kick strokes, like front crawl and backstroke.
- Caution with fly. If you are a regular swimmer, and work on all strokes, I caution you with fly. The spine extension that is required with this stroke means that your belly stretches out, this could cause strain on the abdominal muscles and even lead to diastsis recti. Best to avoid it, or stick to a careful one-arm fly.
- Take it slow on deck. Watch the pool deck and change room floors for slipperiness!
- Slip in. Avoid diving into the pool, especially once your belly pops. Slide into the pool from the edge or use the ladder to enter and exit the pool.
On a fashion note, I've also been asked what I swam in while I was pregnant. While some women opt for a bikini (of the sporty variety), I prefer a full piece. I hunted for a maternity suit that was ideal for fitness swimming (vs. lounging), and came up short. There isn't much out there (although I did just find the Grace maternity suit by Speedo - might have to try it out next time around). Usually I swim in a polyester suit, because it retains it's shape better and lasts much longer than Lycra/Spandex, but the stretchability of Lycra is ideal for a growing belly, so that's what I used, just a size or two bigger than normal. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I added a sports bra underneath for extra support and coverage. There are other maternity swimwear ideas over here.
Happy swimming dear mummas!
(I'm sorry, I had to - what's a swimming post without a little Ariel to pump you up?)
This post contains no affiliate links, just stuff I've found around the web or use myself that may be useful to you!