Scuba diving is not recommended for pregnant women at any stage of their pregnancy. Whilst physically you can scuba dive if you are pregnant, the activity is not recommended by medical professionals, and this advice should be adhered to.
Extreme sports are usually a no go for pregnant women, and scuba diving is no exception. Ask any doctor and you’ll get a pretty straightforward answer – No diving while pregnant – However, it’s not uncommon for the early stages of pregnancy to go unnoticed and plenty of women have gone diving while unknowingly pregnant (however those who know often make the concious decision to not partake in it).
What are the risks of diving while pregnant?
So, what is it that makes diving so dangerous for pregnant women that doctors will flat out forbid it? The biggest risk factor is decompression sickness or “the bends”, where nitrogen may be dissolved into the mother’s bloodstream and passed on to the fetus. Since the unborn child has no lungs to filter it, there’s plenty that can go wrong.
In fact, even if the mother does not get the bends, the baby can still get it. Unfortunately, research into this kind of topics is very limited, mostly studying cases that occurred by accident rather than holding clinical trials. As you can imagine, not many mothers would be willing to put their children at risk.
From what we do know, the consequences of diving while pregnant can include:
- Birth Defects
- Neonatal Respiratory issues
- Neonatal Heart abnormalities.
Other Factors to Consider
While decompression sickness poses the most risk for someone who’s expecting, there are a few other environmental factors to take into consideration:
- Poisonous animals and plants that can cause a hives breakout
- Prolonged physical exertion can be detrimental to the development of the fetus.
- Cold waters can cause blood vessels to constrict and reduce circulation to the baby
What is decompression sickness?
To understand decompression sickness, we need to have a small physics lesson – Don’t click away! – I’ll make it simple.
There are two things you need to know to understand “the bends”. The first thing you should know is that air is made up mostly of oxygen and nitrogen. Oxygen isn’t really an issue since your body will consume it, but Nitrogen is a different story. It will diffuse into your muscles, which normally this isn’t cause for concern, but can turn dangerous – even deadly – when it occurs at high pressures.
High pressures will occur as you dive deeper and deeper into the water. This, in turn, will cause the gasses to compress so you’ll intake more nitrogen than you would normally and lead to higher diffusion into your muscles. The problems start once you leave the water, the pressure will lessen and the nitrogen will expand INSIDE your tissue, forming small bubbles that can break tissue, block blood vessels, or cause blood clots.
Decompression Sickness can be avoided though. If you follow your dive table or dive computer, it will let you know just how long you can stay under before you risk getting the bends.
Common signs of decompression sickness
- Joint Pain
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty urinating
- Coughing blood.
- Sudden Unconsciousness
Does decompression sickness go away?
Well, it depends. If you’re experiencing mild symptoms, like joint pain or weakness, they might go away on their own if you just give it time. However, they can also steadily get worse until you require medical attention. Your best bet is to keep an eye on how your feeling and contact your doctor if things take a turn for the worst.
How deep can a pregnant woman dive?
Let me make it clear, scuba diving while pregnant is NOT RECOMMENDED. If you know you’re expecting, DO NOT GO DIVING. With that said, if you found out you were pregnant after a diving trip and want to know what kind of risk you might be in, here are some guidelines.
- Between 0 and 6 weeks of gestation: This is the most common occurrence, most women show no baby bump this early in pregnancy. So it’s not uncommon for it to go unnoticed. In these cases, anything under 20 meters deep poses little to no risk. However, even at low depths, repeated dives can cause problems
- Between 6 and 13 weeks: Most women will be aware of the pregnancy by this stage, but if you weren’t and have been diving, you should talk to your doctor. The risk is still small for shallow dives, but better safe than sorry.
- Weeks 13 to 40: Most diving facilities won’t allow women to dive when visibly showing, with good reason. Diving at the later stages of pregnancy is extremely risky. Stick to snorkelling.
Is it safe to swim while pregnant?
If you’re looking to replace diving with some other water-related activities, swimming is your best bet. In fact, it’s highly recommended by doctors as a form of exercise for pregnant women because the water holds the extra weight, and the fetus isn’t jostled around.
However, you should still avoid diving, overexertion, and be wary of slipping and falls when going in and out of the pool.
How cold is TOO cold to swim while pregnant?
Even if you’re not diving, water can still pose a danger to your baby. Physicians advise that water should not be too cold nor too hot when swimming while pregnant, the ideal temperature would be somewhere in the 84ºF to 86ºF range. Water that is too cold can cause the uterus to contract and has been linked to neural tube defects and loss of circulation, water that is too hot can cause overheating.
How long after giving birth can I go back to diving?
It’s hard to say how long it can take someone to get back in the water since its highly dependent on their circumstances. If you had a natural birth without complications, most estimate 4 weeks to be enough to recover properly. However, if you’ve had a C-section or other complications, your doctor should be the one to give you the all-clear.