Pregnancy can SA-uck. Sure, there's a human (or more) growing inside of you and this fact alone is mind blowingly thrilling, but pregnancy is not all perfect beach-ball-bellies and cute new maternity clothes (ps these do not even exist the third time around). No. Pregnancy is really, really freaking hard.
I'm talking physically HARD. You don't need me to list off the dozens of shitty factors that tag team pregnancy.
So much of what I do, here and in my clinical practice, is done with the hopes that you find a little, an ounce even, of relief or prevention in some of the advice I dish out. And there is a lot of advice to give. In my prenatal health and wellness classes, at least a few mummas-to-be always ask me (in exasperated tones) "why has no one told us THIS?!???". As if the info that I dish out is new news. Generally, it is not.
THIS, of course, is referring to all of the alignment, exercise, and prenatal injury advice I present in the name of prevention, or at least repair. It's a lot of info, and I could probably cover way more than I already do.
At the end of my last class, one of the mummas-to-be asked me: if I had to pick just ONE piece of advice, in the name of health (mental & physical) and injury prevention, what would it be. Hmmmm...
Good question, mumma.
Surprisingly, my answer came quickly and really, without any hesitation.
And it's the right answer in my mind because it literally addresses just about every (physical) part of pregnancy that you want in-check. Let's just get to it and then I'll explain.
My number one piece of advice to mummas-to-be - the ONE thing you should do when you are pregnant is:
I know. Likely not the answer you were expecting, or maybe want to hear. I apologize. But swimming literally covers EVERYTHING that I would otherwise suggest in the name of a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum recovery.
Here's why swimming is the number one thing you should do during pregnancy:
Most of the pregnancy related aches and pains come from the added weight. The weight gain is really hard on our joints (that are also in a disadvantaged state from hormones relaxin and progesterone). The weight is also hard on our bladders - many women suffer with incontinence and avoid activity (on land) because of this. The added weight also shifts your centre of gravity and messes with your body alignment. The buoyancy of water essentially eliminates all of these factors (swimming during pregnancy has even been shown to significantly reduce sciatica). I don't think there needs to be more said about how amazing it feels to be weightless (or close to it) during pregnancy. Because of this weightlessness, you can also push your exercise intensity without risk of injuring your joints like you might on land. Joints are happy. Fitness level is happy. Win, win, mummas.
2. REDUCED SWELLING.
Immersion alone has been shown to reduce swelling during pregnancy. I'll say that again: just being in water reduces swelling during pregnancy. Add in some movement and you're well on your way to keeping the Kankles to a minimum.
3. WHOLE BODY.
This is pretty obvious, but it's a key factor for anyone who is tight on time, which seems to be just about everyone these days. Whether you are lane swimming, doing an aquafit class or just moving around in the pool you are working your whole body - heart, lungs, and just about EVERY MUSCLE. From a time perspective, this is awesome. Yes, you have to venture to the pool (unless you are luck enough to own one or live by open water), but I really believe that the benefits of getting your whole body, all systems, moving far outweigh any added travel time.
4. COOL FACTOR.
Yes, you already knew that swimmers are super cool people, but swimming is also ideal for keeping body temperatures down which is especially important during pregnancy. Because of the cooling effect of water, you can push your workouts more than you could on land. Again, winning, dear mumma.
5. MENTAL BREAK.
If you are lane swimming, it's really hard to think of anything but your body. You have to focus on your stroke, your breath and your workout. Which means that the thousands of other things that keep your mind running in overdrive all day long just VAN-ish. The introvert in me also really appreciates the quiet, solo time in the pool. As much as I love to gab my way through a noisy, prenatal fitness class with other mummas, it is SO mentally relaxing to push it in the pool by yourself.
This last point, is the main reason I LOVE to swim. It calms my mind.
I have never left the pool (or lake) feeling anything but happy, re-energized and stronger. Win. Win. Win.
Hopefully these reasons to swim are enough to get you out to the local pool or lake, dear mumma. The health benefits of swimming during pregnancy are really undeniable. Other than eating well, you are literally covering just about all of your bases for the healthiest pregnancy, delivery and post-partum.
I could live in the pool these third-trimester days. I've asked my husband repeatedly if he can make this happen:
He's denied me of my wishes, but I'm still working on him. I mean, how amazing would that be. One roll in the mornings and your in.
what's my Swim routine?
I've been a swimmer my entire life. As an adult, I joined a local Masters swim club and swam with them for almost a decade. Once the baby years hit, the schedule didn't work for me and so the last 4 years have been a mix irregular lane and lake swims.
These days I swim for 40-60 minutes at a moderate intensity, combining all strokes (except fly - I do one arm). Lately, I've been in the pool 2-3x/week. I like to add a few minutes of core work into my sessions. My favourite exercise is head-up or on my side dolphin kick. Kind of like this, but without fins. This is a great core exercise. I also add in laps of just kicking and just pulling to focus on my skill, usually these are part of my warm-up laps.
How can you swim during pregnancy?
Well, it all depends on where you are at in your swimming abilities, fitness level and location. There are lots of options to consider though.
I realize that my routine may seem daunting if you're not a regular swimmer, but just like most sports there is something for everyone. If you're weary of your abilities (the last time you swam was when the Canadian Red Cross swim levels were colour coded), 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 the water, but not stroke savy 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.
Another popular option is prenatal aquafit. This is a 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.
Swim safety during pregnancy:
- Talk to your doctor or midwife. Especially if you have not swum or done physical activity in a while. As with any activity during pregnancy, be cautious and talk to your primary health care provider about your plans.
- Take it easy. Start off slowly. Just like with all other exercise during pregnancy, you should not be working so hard that you cannot talk easily (not that you can talk and swim at the same time, but you get the idea). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines state that "longitudinal studies of immersion exercise in pregnancy at 60% maximal oxygen consumption, it was found to be a safe activity, with advantageous effects on oedema, thermal regulation, and buoyancy, thus minimising the risk of joint injuries. Furthermore, no adverse effects on the fetus have been reported to occur during water exercise in pregnancy." Which pretty much means you can work at a good, moderate intensity in the water without any physiological harm to yourself or baby.
- Don't eat right before you swim. A light snack is recommended so your blood sugar 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 with the horizontal positions and hydrostatic pressures.
- 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, just be cautious with this one. I stopped doing the whip kick about two months into my first pregnancy because I felt vulnerable when I did try it, but this time around I feel great doing it into my third trimester. Listen to your body and modify where you need to.
- Caution with fly. If you are a regular swimmer, and work on all strokes, I caution you with the butterfly. The spine extension that is required with this stroke means that your belly stretches out, and 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. Don't forget to pay close attention to the deck and changing room floors for puddles and slick surfaces.
- Slip in. Don't dive or jump into the pool, especially once your belly pops. Slide in from the edge or use a ladder or steps to enter and exit the pool.
- Be cautious during busy pool times for too many people - you don't want that belly kicked accidentally!
- Stay hydrated. The desire to drink water is usually less with swimming because of the lower body temperatures. Make sure you are getting plenty of water in during and after your swim.
Okay, now go jump in mumma!