You hear people say all the time how great swimming is during pregnancy. But when I went to research the facts of what training during pregnancy might be like, and what to be aware of, there was hardly anything out there.
The pages that do exist seem to be accompanied by photos of pregnant ladies in sun hats and holiday-style swimsuits. Despite reams of evidence showing how beneficial staying active is during pregnancy, we still seem to be fighting a real battle to get our heads around pregnant women wanting do more than bob around in the water with their heads out, or go for a 30 minute stroll in the park.
So for what it is worth, I thought I would share my experience of swimming during pregnancy. Of course, the most important thing to know is that every pregnancy is different. We all experience different symptoms at different severities, and our bodies will change in different ways at different rates. That being said, it can also be reassuring to hear about other people’s experiences.
In terms of actual information, this is what I’ve manage to pick up:
• Like with other forms of exercise, the general rule is if it feels good (and it is a level you are used to), it is probably be ok. This isn’t the time for PBs, and you should keep your effort conversational – if you could speak underwater that is
• Take special care not to get kicked in the belly by other swimmers, and when walking around the slippy pool (it is common for pregnant ladies to be much more clumsy than usual!)
• Avoid the whip kick in front crawl as it isn’t good for your stretched pelvic ligaments, and backstroke after 20 weeks as lying on your back isn’t recommended for long periods
The rest is just my own experience…
When you feel sick and exhausted
I was gobsmacked by the level of exhaustion that hit me very early on in the first trimester. Leaning from the sofa to reach the TV remote was often an insurmountable task, so motivating yourself to get out and be active is no mean feat. But I can also honestly say that the time of the day I felt most energetic was during and after exercise; it certainly never made me any more tired.
I also suffered with constant nausea, every minute of every day, which was a lot tougher than I had realised. But the cool water and being active was one of the few things that helped.
The first trimester is the time when your body is the most normal size and shape, and your fitness is affected the least – so if you can, try and make the most of it. For me, the biggest impact on swimming was the motivation to drag myself to the pool. Once in, I didn’t feel too different.
When you start to change physically (but hopefully feel less sick and exhausted)
My biggest advice once your body starts changing is to try and keep up with your activities regularly, that way each time the changes will only feel a tiny bit different. Making the effort to swim at least twice a week will really help you adjust gradually.
I started showing very early, around 13 weeks, and by 20 weeks looked like I’d swallowed a small minibus. Finding a sporty maternity swimsuit proved extremely challenging, they all seemed to have bows on! I managed to find a plain black Slazenger suit on eBay for £3.99 which came complete without a bow, and has so far expanded suitably. I’ve also enjoyed letting the bump sail free in my Sweaty Betty bikini.
When You Get Properly Fat
As a vet, I should have some basic understanding of science things like physics – clearly not, as I really thought having a big bump would help me float. This bump is full of fluid and baby, and it does in no way float.
From about 16 weeks onwards I started to notice that my belly was dragging me down. At triathlon club we often do drills with a pull buoy to keep your legs afloat – but with my legs in the air the rest of me starting tunnelling towards the bottom of the pool.
Although the bump does make you sink a bit, the water is the place where I felt most comfortable. Of all the exercises I have done, swimming is the one where I feel most normal – and least fat!
When your ligaments get lax and you hurt yourself ridiculously easily
I massively resisted the whole ‘pregnancy is an illness’ 1950’s approach – and hurt myself quite badly. Naively I thought begin pregnant just meant getting a bump, but it affects your body and your capabilities so much more than that. Simply standing for too long, walking, or bending down too quickly are all things that have strained my ligaments and caused me discomfort.
It is so important to listen to your body and stop anything that is uncomfortable before it you hurt yourself. Believe me, it is hard to heal when your ligaments are stretching further and further every day.
When you feel vulnerable
Having suffered pregnancy loss previously, I’ve had a fair amount of anxiety during this pregnancy. I have found busy lanes much more stressful than normal. I’ve felt like I’ve needed to be much more aware of my surroundings and where other swimmers are, meaning my head position has been much higher and much less still.
So it isn’t just your growing belly or your loose ligaments that could affect the way you swim, your headspace might too – and that’s ok.
When you feel more comfortable than you do anywhere else
So I’ve shared the nitty-gritty of feeling exhausted, fat, easily-injured, and vulnerable. These were the bits I couldn’t find when I looked up what swimming during pregnancy might be like.
But what I want to share more than anything is that the water is the place I feel most comfortable, most strong, and most like the old me. At a time when getting out of a chair unassisted is tricky, still being able to smash out 1,800m in the pool is the biggest boost to my self-confidence I can find.
Swimming would be the exercise I would recommend most highly to fellow pregnant women hoping to stay active – or just wanting to float around and feel a little less heavy.
This is a piece I have wanted to write for a while, but it is a sad day to be writing it. This week we will be entering our second national lockdown, and pools will once again be closing. I left the pool from our final session with triathlon club yesterday in tears knowing it might be the last swim of my pregnancy.
So it’s a funny time to release this, but I hope that the pool is somewhere we can go again soon – and that this will sit around on the internet long after we are all back in again.