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by Ashley Gangloff

July 15, 2009

Pregnancy: Miracle and gift of life. But how does it affect your swimming and, more importantly, how will swimming affect your pregnancy?

USMS recently spoke with Nadine Day, Masters swimmer, member of the U.S. Masters Swimming Board of Directors, physical therapist and new mom; and her doctor, Millie Nelson MD, FACOC, MMM, the Chair of the OB-GYN Christie Clinic, and also a Masters swimmer. Day and Nelson were asked a series of frequently asked questions regarding pregnancy and swimming in order to better understand how to safely swim while pregnant.

USMS: How much can or should women swim in practice if pregnant?
Day: It is wise to get your doctor's advice. It took me four doctors before a one told me that I could swim. I did not seek a doctor that would allow me to swim; I just asked fellow Masters swimmers for advice. I feel that it is important to have a doctor that actually understands swimming. Also, educate your doctor if he or she doesn't understand what Masters swimming is.
Nelson: I believe you can do whatever your body tells you that you can do. I would not intentionally restrict yourself. Keep in mind that the physiological changes of pregnancy on heart and lung capacity peak at approximately 16-20 weeks, therefore you will begin to fatigue with endurance earlier in your pregnancy than you may want to give in to. But, you are not hurting yourself by going the distance.

USMS: Why do many women report that it feels so good to swim while pregnant, as opposed to other forms of exercise?
Day: Swimming provides the buoyancy effect and allows your body to adjust to the increase in weight. In addition, it helps unload your back. The water's property of hydrostatic pressure helps with lower extremity swelling also.
Nelson: Buoyancy increases your flexibility and decreases pressure on your pelvis as well.

USMS: Can a woman do flip turns during pregnancy?
Day: It really depends on the individual, the size of her belly, and the advice of her doctor. In my circumstance, flip turns were not recommended, so I adopted a swivel turn because I found it difficult to tuck my knees up to push off for an open turn.
Nelson: Absolutely!

USMS: Is there anything that should be avoided in practice during pregnancy?
Day: Be mindful of the force of pushing off the walls. Also, diving during the last trimester is not advised.
Nelson: No.

USMS: Obviously women will find their swimsuits fitting a little differently during pregnancy. Is there a particular style that might fit a growing belly better?
Day: It really depends on the size of the belly and breast. A wider strap may offer relief. Another excellent suit is the tankini, a two-piece suit. The tankini allows room for your growing belly, however it is only acceptable in practice. In USMS competition the tankini is not legal.
Nelson: I just kept buying bigger swimsuits!

USMS: Can a pregnant swimmer compete in a meet?
Day: Definitely, you just have to listen to your body. Starting from the water is acceptable and advised later in pregnancy. Using the ladder is highly recommended to get into and out of the water.
Nelson: Yes, later on in pregnancy you may want to start from the wall.

USMS: How long into pregnancy can or should women swim?
Nelson: You can swim until the minute you deliver. I went swimming at 39 weeks pregnant, coughed on the edge of the pool and my water broke. I delivered my daughter six hours later.

USMS: What other forms of exercise in the water are effective during pregnancy?
Day: Water walking and aqua aerobics are excellent types of exercise. You can use resistance equipment during these types of exercises, too.
Nelson: Vertical aquatic exercise and water-based nautilus type exercises are also okay during pregnancy. Aquatic massage, burdenko (a form of aqua therapy and rehabilitation), aqualates, etc. are all okay.

USMS: What other advice do you have for Masters swimmers who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy?
Day: After establishing a good relationship with a doctor, talk to your teammates and friends. A good friend and teammate of mine had her son exactly one year before I had my daughter and she was able to give me a lot of pointers and good advice. In my case, prior to having my daughter, I had several miscarriages that had nothing to do with swimming. Being able to rely on my teammates for support was so important to me. The psychological aspects of both pregnancy and miscarriage can be challenging. I think how one handles the changes in one's life makes them a stronger person. A baby changes your life; your priorities change. I love swimming and it will always be a part of my life. I am still competing but have adjusted to the changes that came with having a baby: limited warm-up and warm-down, resting when I can, and understanding that it is okay to ask for help.

U.S. Masters Swimming recognizes that every member has her own medical background, swimming experience, fitness level and expectations and we expect every member to seek the advice and counsel of her own doctor before, during and after a pregnancy.