The Benefits of Swimming When Pregnant

Pregnant woman swimming

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When it comes to exercising during pregnancy, swimming is one of the safest and most beneficial choices. Swimming while pregnant offers excellent health and fitness benefits as well as stress relief and enjoyment. Pulling a few freestyle laps or maybe even breaststroke is a fun way to get some low-impact aerobic exercise while improving your circulation and boosting your oxygen levels—exactly what your body needs when you are expecting.

Swimming works every muscle in your body, and since you are weightless in the water, it's an exercise you can safely and comfortably continue throughout your entire pregnancy. There is nothing like floating in refreshing water when you are pregnant!

We reached out to the experts to learn more about the benefits of swimming while pregnant.

Is Swimming Safe During Pregnancy?

We have good news: there really aren't any specific dangers when it comes to taking a swim while pregnant. "[Swimming] is a low-impact sport where there is no risk of a fall or high-impact injury," explains Lucky Sekhon, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist, infertility specialist, and board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist.

Dr. Sekhon advises taking extra caution when walking on a slippery, wet pool deck or when climbing out of the pool. It is a good idea to use the pool stairs when pregnant.

When Is Swimming Not Safe in Pregnancy?

There are a few safety issues to keep in mind when it comes to swimming with a baby on the way.
"It is not safe to be immersed in very hot water [and you should] avoid hot tubs," Dr. Sekhon says, because overheating can cause pregnancy complications, especially in the first trimester.

She adds that while chlorinated pools are completely safe in pregnancy, you should ensure that any body of water you swim in is clean and not going to put you at risk of any water-borne illness. That doesn't mean you can't swim in lakes or the ocean.

You just want to make sure you are not going into any type of water that might be contaminated in some way. For instance, even short exposures to infested water during rafting or while walking barefoot in water that is contaminated by feces could be risky.

Although swimming is generally considered safe, you should always check with your doctor to get the green light for any type of exercise when you are pregnant.

Benefits of Swimming While Pregnant

Swimming is a wonderfully soothing form of low-impact exercise that can relieve many of the common aches and pains of pregnancy.

"Swimming is a great exercise in general," Barbara Bergin, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon based in Austin, TX notes. "It takes pressure off of the weight-bearing joints, so that would go double for a pregnant woman. Many women gain a lot of weight when they are pregnant. This puts additional strain on the weight-bearing joints of the body."

Dr. Bergin adds that many pregnant women develop edema, pregnancy-related swelling, in their lower extremities, which worsens after standing and walking for long periods of time. "So, exercises which don't involve weight-bearing don't contribute to, and might even help relieve some of this swelling," she explains. 

Benefits of swimming during pregnancy include:

  • Relieves nausea, which may be aggravated by other forms of exercise.
  • Helps to keep you cool while exercising and prevents overheating.
  • The buoyancy takes the pressure off your baby bump and lower back, providing much-needed relief.
  • Improves blood circulation. 
  • Relieves lower limb swelling and discomfort.
  • Strengthens core abdominal muscles.
  • Prevents diastasis recti.
  • Relieves back pain.
  • Can improve cardiovascular health and flexibility.
  • Can lead to an easier, smoother pregnancy and labor and delivery.

What Trimester Is Best for Swimming?

Swimming is both beneficial and generally safe during all trimesters of pregnancy. The water gives you added buoyancy, allowing you to continue this sport even when a growing belly might prevent you from comfortably participating in other types of exercise.

Hopping into the pool or lake may have specific benefits to each trimester, as well some positive effects that will last throughout your pregnancy.

Swimming during pregnancy can help to:

  • Alleviate nausea and fatigue in the first trimester.
  • Alleviate round ligament pain and strain caused by a fast-growing belly in the second trimester.
  • Quell swelling and discomfort of the feet and ankles in the third trimester.

Often, the further along your pregnancy progresses, the more difficult different types of exercises become. Swimming is the exception, since the water provides buoyancy no matter how much weight you gain. Therefore, the third trimester is a uniquely beneficial time to get into the water. (Just check with your healthcare provider near the end to make sure you're not dilated.)

Later on in pregnancy, it is common to develop knee pain which is exacerbated by stair climbing, and getting in and out of chairs. As you gain weight, exercises like walking uphill, climbing stairs, and squatting can become uncomfortable or just plain impractical. Swimming can be an enjoyable way to continue to stay active throughout all nine months.

How to Get Started Swimming for Exercise

Lap swimming is an easy way to get aerobic exercise. If you have swum laps before, you can follow your regular workout but listen to your body's cues. Pregnancy can tire you out and you may swim at a slower pace than usual or take more breaks. Rather than pushing yourself, really pay attention to how you feel and adjust as necessary.

If you are familiar with a variety of strokes, try them out and see what feels best. If butterfly is your favorite stroke, you may find that a nice, easy breaststroke suites you better for now. You also may want to drop the flip turns and instead just touch the wall and turn around with your head above water.

Every pregnancy is different, though; and if you feel great swimming at top speed, there is no reason not to, as long as your doctor agrees.

If you haven't swum athletically before, don't jump into this too fast. As a rule, starting new types of exercise while pregnant should be done with caution. It is often recommended to stick with workouts that you have done before.

That being said, you can always just swim for fun or even just walk and move around in the water. You will still get the benefits of feeling weightless and any movement while immersed in water will work all of your muscles.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.