Swimming is a great exercise for pregnant women. Both women who exercised prior to pregnancy and those who chose to start exercising after finding out they were pregnant are perfect candidates for swimming, but as is the case with any exercise, there are limitations and safety issues that must be considered.

When it comes to safer swimming during pregnancy, one of the best tools pregnant women can have is knowledge. Taking control of your swimming environment is not enough. Pregnant women must understand the real risk of swimming in untreated or mistreated pools, oceans, lakes, and rivers. Understanding how germs affect real people may be enough to drive the importance of preparation and protection home.

Swimming Pool Fast Facts

  • About 12% (or more than 13,000) swimming pools are closed each year for health violations that could cause illness to swimmers, pregnant and non-pregnant. Most violations are cited during regular testing and pool inspections by local government. If your local public pool was immediately closed for contaminated water, the germ infestation could have been bad enough to threaten the health of swimmers.
  • About 10% (or about 13,000) swimming pools are cited each year for improper chlorination practices, chlorine violation or pool disinfectant violation. While chlorine does not protect against all germs found in public pools, proper chlorination can greatly reduce the risk of infection. 
  • More than 50% of spas and hot tubs in public settings are in violation of health ordinances every day. The CDC estimates that around 11% of spas and hot tubs require immediate closure to protect public health.

Germs and Recreational Water Illness Outbreaks

  • From 2007 to 2008 more than 13,000 people were affected by recreational water illness, as reported to the CDC.
  • Crypto, the most common germ found in public and private swimming pools, can live for more than 10 days even if the pool is chlorinated properly. 
  • More than 70% of gastrointestinal infections caused by recreational water contact were caused by Crypto. 
  • More than 82% of gastrointestinal infections associated with treated water (chlorinated pools) were associated with Crypto. 
  • More than 20% of adults have no idea swimming while suffering from diarrhea can cause other swimmers to get sick.

Recreational Water Injuries

  • More than 3,000 people were injured in 2010 from activities associated with recreational water fun.
  • More than 85% of drowning associated with recreational water accidents occurred when the victim was not protected with a life preserver. 
  • Pool chemicals were responsible for more than 4,500 injuries in 2008. The majority of injuries occurred in a home environment where children or adults came in contact with pool chemicals, gases, vapors or fumes.

Germs present in pool waters can cause recreational water illnesses. While public pools are typically chlorinated, many public pools fail inspections and are immediately shut down for maintenance when chlorine and pH levels test below or above normal. Pool maintenance crews must work diligently to maintain adequate chlorine levels to keep unhealthy germs at bay, especially when young children, pregnant women, and elderly swimmers frequent the pool. The CDC offers three tips for reducing the risk of recreational water illnesses for all swimmers.

Three Tips for Water Safety

  1. Be Aware: Awareness of potential dangers in a swimming environment is crucial, especially for pregnant women. Whether you are swimming at a public pool or private pool it is important to keep all bodily fluids out of the water, this includes urine and feces. Swimmers with diarrhea or gastrointestinal illness of any kind should steer clear of the swimming pool. All swimmers should shower with soap and water before entering the pool and rinse off before getting back in the pool after stepping out. All children and adults should take bathroom breaks at least every 60 minutes. If the pool is located outside, this is the perfect time to reapply sunscreen. For parents of young children in diapers, change swimming diapers or traditional diapers more often to prevent water contamination. It is best to change diapers away from the pool to prevent contaminants from washing into pool waters. 
  2. Be Active: Public and private pools must be maintained with proper chlorination to prevent germs from infesting the water. Adequate chlorine levels should measure between one and three parts per million. Testing strips are available at all pool supply stores. It is also important to test water pH. Safe pH levels measure between 7.2 and 7.8. If swimming at a local public pool, feel free to ask the pool maintenance supervisor about pool maintenance schedules. Chlorine and pH levels should be tested at least twice daily. Testing more often may be required during periods of heavy use. Pool maintenance supervisors should have inspection scores available for public viewing, but you may have to ask for the latest score and date when the score was earned. 
  3. Be an Advocate: If you frequent a local pool during your pregnancy, play an active part in the pool maintenance program as an advocate for pool safety. Ask about pool safety programs in place to ensure the safe swimming environment for all swimmers. Hyperchlorination kills all germs. Public and private pools should be hyperchlorinated to at least 20 parts per million for a minimum of 12.75 hours on a regular schedule.

Swimming is a fantastic exercise for pregnant women, but swimming in unsafe waters can lead to infection and diarrhea. Taking an active role in pool maintenance, both personal and public, can help prevent recreational water illnesses.

Water safety is important for pregnant women, children and all people who choose to swim in public pools, home pools or untreated recreational waters. Safety starts with preparation and knowledge of just how many people are affected by water injuries and illness each year.

This page is your guide to water safety and the prevention of water illnesses during pregnancy. Safety first!