Is Diving OK During Pregnancy?
You should not scuba dive while pregnant. Of course, it is physically possible to dive when pregnant, but doctors strictly recommend not partaking in this activity at any stage of the pregnancy.
What Happens If You Scuba Dive Pregnant?
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of research conducted on this matter. What little scientific evidence we do have comes from little and inconclusive research. It goes without saying that expecting mothers aren’t particularly interested in participating in clinical trials to test the possible adverse effects of scuba diving during pregnancy.
Medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Divers Alert Network (DAN) advise against diving when pregnant based on the surveys of women who scuba dived while pregnant, and on studies conducted on animals.
In 1980, Undersea Biomedical Research journal conducted a survey titled “Scuba Diving and Fetal Well-being,” which included 208 women, 109 of whom had scuba-dived when they were pregnant.
Among these, the 99 women who had not been scuba diving reported no birth complications or defects, while a 5.5% occurence rate of problems was recorded among those who had dived, which is a normal rate of occurrence for the national population.
Still, diving alone cannot be conclusively held responsible for these issues. They could’ve been caused by other unaccounted variables. Furthermore, the small sample size at most confirms correlation between scuba diving and birth defects, but not causation.
Miscarriage, birth defects, neonatal respiratory issues and heart abnormalities could be some of the consequences of diving while pregnant. In addition, certain environmental factors can also have pernicious effects. Toxic plants and animals in the surrounding water might cause a hive breakout. Continued physical exertion in cold waters can cause blood vessels to constrict and reduce blood and oxygen circulation to the baby.
With all that said, the biggest threat to expecting mothers by far is Decompression Sickness (DSI).
Decompression Sickness – Causes, Symptoms, Effects, Studies
Air is primarily composed of nitrogen, and some parts oxygen. Oxygen is what we need for, well, everything. But nitrogen can be fatal if it diffuses into our muscles under high pressures.
Pressure increases the deeper you dive in the water, which causes the gases in the air to be highly compressed. This in turn results in scuba divers taking in more nitrogen than normal, and so a substantial amount of nitrogen diffuses into the blood vessels.
Once they’re at the surface at normal pressure, the diffused nitrogen expands and forms bubbles, which can break tissues, block blood vessels, and even cause blood clots.
Common symptoms of decompression sickness include joint pain, headaches, lightheadedness, muscle weakness, coughing up blood and suddenly fainting.
Decompression sickness is especially dangerous because fetuses get all their nutrition from the mother’s blood via the placenta. The absence of lungs in a growing fetus means that it cannot filter out the toxic nitrogen bubbles, which is detrimental for the developing fetus’s health.
DCI can be treated by hyperbaric oxygen treatment, which is another danger to the fetus. Hyperbaric chambers, which can not only simulate the increased pressures encountered when diving, but are also used for treating DCI, have been used to test the effects of diving on different animals, whose results can be applied to humans as well.
The results from these tests produced a range of developmental abnormalities in the test animals, including low birth weights, fetal abortion, abnormal skull development, malformed limbs etc. Sheep, whose placenta is very similar to human placenta, were subjected to these tests late in their pregnancy, and gave offspring with spinal defects and heart abnormalities.
How Deep Can You Dive While Pregnant?
To reiterate, medical professionals from all across the globe strongly advice not to dive while pregnant. Still, here’s some brief guidelines to be familiar with:
- It is generally considered safe to dive between 0 and 6 weeks of gestation. Women normally don’t even know that they’re pregnant during this time, and most experts agree that diving anywhere below 20 meters doesn’t pose a threat. Still, repeated dives into deep waters can spell trouble.
- While the risk may be small with shallow diving when you’re between 6 to 13 weeks pregnant, it is still better to avoid it altogether. Most women know they’re expecting by this time, and their doctors would most definitely advice against it.
- Women are visibly showing between 13 and 40 weeks, and no pool or any other facility would allow them to go diving, and with good reason. The last trimester is already quite risky, it’s best to be safe than sorry.
Aerial Gas Embolism (AGE), a type of DSI, can occur in waters as shallow as 1.2 meters. AGE is when air bubbles in the mother’s blood vessels are distributed throughout her body and can interfere with blood circulation to the fetus, and even cause direct tissue trauma.
How Long After Having a Baby Can You Scuba Dive?
This really differs from woman to woman, as every pregnancy is unique and different. If you had a natural birth without any complications, then you’re free to go scuba diving after 4 weeks. If you had a C-section, then you must wait for your doctor to give you the all clear to go diving again.
Is It Safe to Swim While Pregnant?
Doctors do recommend swimming as a form of exercise for pregnant women, since the fetus isn’t jostled around in it. Snorkeling is also fine, as long as you stick to the water’s surface only.
Can You Scuba Dive While Breastfeeding?
Yes, scuba diving while breastfeeding is generally considered safe. Breastfeeding mothers should stay hydrated and avoid diving if their breasts are infected or inflamed.
Can You Scuba Dive While on Your Period?
Absolutely! But studies have shown that women who dive during their periods are more prone to decompression sickness, which is why it’s recommended for them to take extra care in staying hydrated and to not dive too deep.
As a final word, I just want to reiterate again: Don’t go diving while you’re pregnant.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.
Pregnancy and Diving: What You Need to Know
In the PADI Open Water Diver course, divers learn that pregnant women should not dive. Avoiding diving while pregnant or while trying to get pregnant is also included in the guidelines of the RSTC medical form. Understandably, many people want to understand the reasoning behind these limitations.
To determine the impact of diving during pregnancy, here’s a look at some of the facts.
What we know about pregnancy and diving
Though there has been no human testing conducted to determine the effect of diving on the fetus; similar to avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, a mother needs to be mindful that what she does affects her baby. If a pregnant woman suffers from decompression sickness (DCI), there is no guarantee that it won’t harm the fetus as well.
Effects of decompression sickness
It’s not just open water dives that pose as problematic. Pool dives and freediving also have the potential to affect a fetus. Dive injuries such as pulmonary barotrauma or arterial gas embolism (AGE) can occur in water as shallow as four feet/1.2 meters deep. AGE, when air bubbles in the blood vessels or heart block the supply of blood, is a DCI that can harm a fetus even if the mother isn’t experiencing symptoms. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), animal studies suggested the possibility of fetal harm from DCI and hyperbaric oxygen exposure.
According to DAN, AGE (which can occur with or without pulmonary barotrauma) is characterized by the presence of gas bubbles in the arterial circulation. These bubbles are distributed throughout the body and may interrupt circulation or cause direct tissue trauma to the fetus.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
If a pregnant diver has DCI, the usual hyperbaric oxygen treatment therapy can cause further risks, by exposing the fetus to decompression stress as well as to varying pressures and depths.
DAN states that “Fully functional lungs are extremely effective in filtering bubbles from the circulation. In the fetus, however, most blood bypasses the lungs, and gas exchange occurs through the placenta. Thus, pulmonary filtration of bubbles does not occur within the fetus. This may increase the risk of arterial gas embolism (AGE), with potentially devastating consequences.”
As with any activity during pregnancy, the best advice is to consult your physician before any physical activity.
Whether you are trying to conceive or already pregnant, avoid all types of diving to ensure your baby is born healthy and free of complications. Snorkelling and swimming are great ways to enjoy the water while pregnant. Once the baby is born, and with a physician’s go ahead, diving can resume.
Can You Scuba Dive While Pregnant?
For many people, finding out that they are going to become a parent is one of life’s most joyous occasions. However, scuba diving while pregnant is not recommended. So for divers, the realisation soon sinks in that it will mean 9 months (or more) of no diving.
Most divers can recall from their Open Water training that diving isn’t recommended during pregnancy. Despite this, there is very limited research available to explain the risks further. So here at Girls that Scuba, the world’s largest scuba diving community for women, we wanted to dig a little deeper to find out exactly why you shouldn’t go scuba diving while pregnant.
Please note, this information is based on recommendations from DAN (Divers Alert Network). If you need more insight, please give them a call or email. You should always consult your own doctor first during pregnancy.
Surveys About Pregnancy and Diving
For ethical reasons, there haven’t been any experiments conducted on humans. Surveys have been conducted on women who have given birth after scuba diving, but these tend to be somewhat inconclusive. They have weaknesses, as surveys are not as easily controlled as laboratory research. In some cases they can also be biased.
One survey of divers who had recently given birth included 69 women who had not dived, and 109 women who had. The non-diving group reported no birth defects, while the divers reported defects at an incidence of 5.5%. This rate of occurrence was normal for the national population.
Diving could not conclusively be held responsible for the issues, which could have been caused by any number of unrelated factors. The small sample size makes these results difficult to determine. While surveys can establish correlations, they cannot confirm a relationship between two factors.
Hyperbaric Chamber Animal Studies
Hyperbaric chambers simulate the increased pressure of diving, and are often used to treat decompression sickness. They can also be used for research. Chambers have been used to test the effects of diving on some pregnant animals, with the results pointing to how this might work in humans.
Hyperbaric chamber studies have allowed scientists to examine a few factors which might affect fetal development when scuba diving while pregnant. Rats and hamsters have been used to study the effect of hyperbaric oxygen (breathing oxygen under pressure) on fetal development.
Hamsters were also used to study decompression sickness, as well as sheep. Sheep are often used for these types of studies, as their placenta is very similar to a human placenta.
These chamber studies have shown a range of developmental abnormalities. These include low birth weights, fetal abortion, bubbles in the amniotic fluid, premature delivery, abnormal skull development, malformed limbs, abnormal development of the heart, changes in the fetal circulation, limb weakness and blindness.
Scuba Diving While Pregnant
As well as the potential risks to the baby, there are also concerns for the person who is scuba diving during their pregnancy. Pregnant people often experience swelling in their sinuses which can affect equalisation.
There are also a number of strenuous factors involved in a regular dive day. Carrying heavy scuba equipment would not be advisable during pregnancy. If you’re prone to seasickness, this probably wouldn’t pair well with any nausea caused by morning sickness.
There’s also the practicality of fitting into scuba equipment. Dive gear isn’t well adapted to women’s bodies at the best of times, so trying to fit a growing bump into a wetsuit or BCD would not be an easy task!
Want to know which wetsuits can still accommodate a bump for other water adventures? Check out Girls that Scuba founder Sarah trying on her wetsuits at 6 months pregnant.