A common question from female divers is whether they can keep diving whilst pregnant.
When it comes to fitness for diving, the recommendations for male and female divers are largely the same: good exercise tolerance, a healthy weight and awareness of possible concerns related to medical conditions and medications. But men and women are physically and physiologically different and with women representing about a third of the recreational diving population it’s important to consider specific health concerns that female divers face.
DAN’s Brittany Trout and Lana Sorrell (EMT, DMT) address this specific topic: Can I dive while pregnant?
Not only should pregnant women refrain from diving, women who think they may be pregnant or are trying to become pregnant should likewise avoid it. For ethical reasons, there has never been experimental research investigating the effects of diving on a foetus. The retrospective anecdotal data regarding pregnancy and diving shows there may be a risk to the foetus should a mother continue diving during pregnancy. A survey of 208 mothers who dived during pregnancy showed higher rates of low birth weight, birth defects, neonatal respiratory difficulties and other problems. Decompression studies conducted on sheep demonstrated that a foetus may develop bubbles before the mother displays clinical symptoms of decompression sickness. Sheep Studies are relevant because the placentas of sheep and humans are similar.) The foetus runs the potential risk of death because the foetal cardiovascular system has no effective filter. Therefore, any bubbles formed are likely to go directly to the brain and coronary arteries. All sheep studies showed very high rates of foetal loss. Although it is limited, the available data seem to suggest strongly that women should refrain from diving while pregnant or trying to conceive.
As with scuba diving, the data on freediving and pregnancy are limited, with most data coming from Japanese Ama divers and Korean Hae-Nyo divers. Freediving for pearls and abalone is a way of life for these divers, most of whom are women. Many Ama divers continue to freedive well into pregnancy without many adverse effects, although profiles are modified based on gestation. Conservative freediving during pregnancy may be considered a safe activity for enjoyment or relaxation (provided good maternal and foetal health), but it should not be considered an ideal form of exercise. DAN recommends that pregnant women consult their doctor before beginning any new exercise activity.
The recommendations regarding a return to diving after childbirth vary based on the type of delivery. After a normal vaginal delivery without complications, a woman can resume diving in about 21 days. This allows time for the cervix to close, which limits the risk of infection. An uncomplicated caesarean section generally means eight to 12 weeks of not diving to allow the mother to regain stamina and cardiovascular fitness. If a woman is put on bed rest due to complications, waiting more than 12 weeks is prudent because of deconditioning and loss of aerobic capacity and muscle mass. Following a miscarriage, a woman can return to diving when the physician releases her for full, unrestricted activity.
The discussion continues as Brittany and Lana discuss other health concerns that female divers face: READ MORE.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Frink.