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by Elaine K Howley

April 2, 2024

Swimming is unlikely to induce labor, but it’s always best to listen to your body

If you’re pregnant and find yourself cranking a Masters workout and then suddenly worry you might be hastening labor, take heart, you probably aren’t risking a pre-term delivery.

“There’s no solid evidence to suggest that swimming can induce labor,” explains Rakhee Patel, a board-certified OBGYN with Pinewood Family Care Co. Direct Care network in New Jersey.

Michael Tahery agrees, noting that in his 30 years of practicing as an obstetrician/gynecologist and urogynecologist, he’s never seen a case where swimming induced labor. “I don't think there are any studies that show that either,” he says.

Still, if you’re concerned you might want to dial back the intensity just a bit, particularly as your due date approaches, Patel says. That’s when it’s especially “essential to listen to the body’s signals. If there's any discomfort or contractions while swimming, it's advisable to stop and consult a health care provider.”

Again, while there’s no evidence to suggest that swimming too hard can induce labor, generally speaking, an excess of stress on the body, over-exertion, or exhaustion can make carrying a baby to full term more difficult. 

Tahery notes that some individuals who have jobs in which they’re on their feet all the time, such as dentists or nurses, may be at higher risk of delivering early. The effects of standing all day long while pregnant can apparently lead to pre-term labor in some cases. “For example, if patients are nurses in the ICU, we give them restrictions on what they can do, because studies have shown that for people who are on their feet for extended periods of time, that leads to exhaustion and that can cause pre-term labor.”

He adds that “we don't necessarily understand why” that’s the case, “but that's most likely because nature has designed it that way,” with reproduction and the carrying on of the species becoming the top priority for any pregnant organism in terms of how the body triages demands on its limited resources. “If their body's under stress and says, ‘Hey, I can't really carry this pregnancy any longer,’ you're going to have problems, you see. So then it induces labor earlier,” Tahery explains.

This all suggests that if a pregnant person pushes themselves too hard in any realm or becomes too exhausted, that could have an impact on the fetus and could potentially lead to early labor. “The body has only so much energy and so much blood flow,” Tahery explains. “If you overtask your body and the blood flow need to go to the muscles, the baby may not get as much nutrition.”

Patel adds that while swimming can be a gentle way to stay active in the late stages of pregnancy, “it's important to avoid strenuous activities. Each pregnancy is unique, so it's advisable to have an individualized discussion with a health care provider about physical activities during the final weeks of pregnancy.”

Therefore, if you’re pregnant and swimming, the best advice is to listen to your body AND your doctor. If you’re feeling tired during a workout, slow down or get out. Don’t keep pushing through like you may have always done before getting pregnant – your body has a whole host of different needs while you’re growing a baby.


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