Waddle in: cold water swimming in pregnancy
dryrobe® Ambassador Sophie Hellyer is a surfer, writer, producer, yoga teacher, and cold water swimmer. She founded the #RiseFierce movement to inspire women to try cold-water swimming.
Now a mother, Sophie shares why she cold water swam throughout her pregnancy and provides some vital tips for those who would like to do the same.
I swam in cold water almost daily throughout my pregnancy. In fact, I swam right up until the day before my son was born – at which point my mucus plug came out in my swimming costume on the beach, much to the horror of my swim pals!
Some people thought I was bonkers for swimming so deep into my pregnancy, as if a child-bearing woman should always take things super easy and avoid all sporting activities for the whole nine months (obviously I quit skateboarding early on, but c’mon, that’s kinda different to swimming).
Personally I felt that pregnancy was an important time for building a strong mind and a powerful body. I wanted to lead an active life, I wanted to feel like my normal self, and I wanted to be fit and ready for the rigours ahead. After all, I’d heard the old adage that giving birth is ‘like running a marathon’ … mine sure was.
Happily, my cold water swims proved to be every bit as beneficial to me during pregnancy as I’d hoped they would be. They felt refreshing and awakening – like they always had done – but also very calming.
I learned how to better regulate my breathing in an almost meditative way (which came in useful in labour too!), and the whole experience of being immersed in nature was wonderfully soothing to my increasingly busy and anxious mind. In my third trimester especially, I found that my swims kept me feeling mentally robust and helped to stave off the threat of prenatal depression.
Cold water swimming was also great for my inflammation. My feet and ankles massively swelled up towards the end of my pregnancy, so I was keen for anything that would help dial that issue down.
More than anything, though, it was the feeling of being weightless in the water – the freedom from the strain of my increasingly heavy bump – that was so joyous. Don’t get me wrong, I loved carrying my boy around for nigh on 42 weeks, but those minutes in the water were a godsend.
Of course, there’s been plenty of scientific research over the years to substantiate the health benefits of cold water swimming for non-pregnant folk. Whether it’s boosting your immune system, the sense of community you feel from being with other swimmers, or the sense of escapism you get from bobbing around in the water for a short while, cold water swimming is renowned for its upsides. No wonder it’s become so popular.
But I know what you’re thinking? Is it really safe for a pregnant person? I get asked that question A LOT. The answer is… well, it’s long-winded and entirely specific to you as an individual! But for me, it was luckily ‘yes’.
Firstly, research suggests that it’s generally safe to continue exercising whilst pregnant and the NHS advice is to keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise for as long as you feel comfortable. Studies show that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy, like high blood pressure and even gestational diabetes. It’s also good because it helps to prepare your body for labour. Exercise is not dangerous for your baby, so long as you avoid things like contact sports and scuba diving! However, extra caution is advised in some cases, eg for women with complicated pregnancies, or those with known cardiovascular or respiratory problems, so always speak to your midwife or healthcare professional if you have any doubts at all.
With specific respect to cold water swimming, most of the evidence is admittedly anecdotal thanks to a huge gap in research, presumably due to the ethics around studying pregnant women. One 2020 study does present the hypothesis that women who regularly enjoy cold water swimming can expect to experience improved birth outcomes over those who don’t. The theory is that because cold water swimming is a significant physiologically stressful event it may, on habitual exposure, attenuate the stress response.
Of course, cold water swimming requires preparation and care. So before you give it a try, please read these vital notes. Seriously. This stuff is important. And again, if you’re unsure or not feeling confident, do consult your maternity team first.
(1) Be sensible about your exposure to cold water and limit the time you spend in it. This applies whether you are pregnant or not. My ocean dips while pregnant lasted no more than 2-5 minutes (the ocean temperatures averaged 8 degrees C; if I had been dipping in a lake where the temperatures would likely have been much colder, I’d have been in and out in seconds).
(2) Never swim alone. Always swim with a friend; ideally swim where there is a lifeguard; follow any official guidance with respect to flags, rips or currents. If you’re not sure about water safety, seek advice before you enter the water.
(3) Take warm, loose clothes ready for when you exit the water. You may experience something called ‘after drop’ when you exit cold water, which is when your core body temperature continues to drop even once dry. You could even feel coldest 10-40 minutes after getting out the water. So dry off thoroughly, wrap yourself in warm layers of clothing, throw on a dryrobe, and take a hot drink with you – you’ll be glad of it.
(4) Listen to your body. My pre-pregnacny self would throw myself into big crashing waves just for kicks. However, in the first trimester of my pregnancy I had nausea and fatigue, and in the third trimester, I had such a big bump that it was only common sense to tread a little more cautiously. Your balance can be affected when pregnant and you may experience dizziness at times, so don’t go in the water if you feel remotely unwell or unsteady. If necessary, just save the experience for another day.
(5) Breathe! As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. It’s more important than ever to get control of your breathing and focus on those long slow exhales as you enter the water to avoid cold shock.
As you can probably tell, I think cold water swimming is pretty damn amazing and I found it readied me for much of what lay ahead. If you can do it – and if you want to do it – jump in and give it a go. Actually don’t jump! Waddle in. Be safe. Relax. Enjoy. I promise, nothing takes the weight off you at this time in your life quite like being in cold water.
Facebook: Sophie Louise Hellyer
Sophie wears the Black Grey dryrobe® Advance