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Are Pools Safe for Pregnant Women?

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A recent article from the New York Times addressed the question of whether or not swimming is safe for pregnant women. The discussion took the form of a Q&A in the paper’s online “Ask:Well” feature, in which a reader expressed her worry that because pregnant women can experience lowered immunity to infectious disease, swimming in a pool might be too risky.

“I was told by my doctor that I shouldn't go swimming in the indoor pool at my gym because pregnant women have compromised immunity and the pool will have high levels of bacteria,” the reader shared. “I am unable to find any research supporting this, however, and would like to use the gym pool to exercise while pregnant.”

Responding to the concern, Times’ writer Sharon Jayson quoted Dr. Catherine Spong, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, who said that although a woman’s immune system is indeed considered more vulnerable during pregnancy, “as long as the pool water is well maintained, evidence favors taking a dip.”

Jayson further supported Spong’s comforting assessment with two recent studies that looked at the very same question: A 2010 study conducted in Denmark, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, compared swimming, bicycling and no exercise, in which the researchers concluded that swimming “is considered an ideal activity for pregnant women,” and that “there was no indication that swimming in pool water is associated with adverse reproductive outcomes.”

Another study published in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2013 addressed concerns that either waterborne pathogens or methods of disinfecting pool water might increase the risk of birth defects. Again, according to the study’s authors, they found “no positive association between pool use and birth defects.”

But the good news for pregnant women — and by extension pool and spa professionals — doesn’t stop there. When looking at the specific issue of swimming as an exercise for expecting mothers, apart from concerns about infection, a new report published in December by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists unequivocally declared swimming is a “safe physical activity for pregnant women.”

According to Dr. Spong, swimming is "well tolerated by pregnant women and generally considered to be encouraged and to be safe.”

Certainly, pregnant women should always consult with their doctors about the possible implications of various physical activities. Nonetheless, when combining the reassuring scientific evidence on the issue of pregnancy and pools with the broader spectrum of well-established health benefits of swimming and other forms of aquatic exercise, it’s clear that almost everyone, including pregnant women, can benefit from exercising in a swimming pool.
 

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