The Prenatal Water Workout
by Jill Cohen
© 1987-2001 Midwifery Today, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Combining the benefits of water and exercise helps create better birth. The women I have worked with tend to have fewer interventions, shorter labors and less c-sections. They show fewer complications in the prenatal period and recover faster. The benefits of water are ancient knowledge. While there is no formal documentation of outcomes of labor due to water exercise, I know from three years of observation what is true. It makes perfect sense for the pregnant body to gravitate toward a water environment.
Exercise in the water is becoming more popular during the prenatal period and offers many benefits for the pregnant mother, both physiological and psychological. Water provides a safe, inspiring atmosphere that women can use and work with as their bodies change and grow.
In order to understand the physiologic dynamic of water, you must understand hydrostatic pressure. When you immerse a body in water up to the shoulders, two great things occur. One is that the body becomes buoyant. The other is that the pressure of water against the skin surface while the body is in motion creates hydrostatic effect, which causes body fluids to move effortlessly upward. For example: If you have swollen feet and you kick through the water, hydrostatic pressure combined with the movement alleviates swelling.
The hydrostatic force of water pushes extravascular fluid into the vascular space, producing an increase of uterine blood flow. Uterine blood flow is essential to grow a healthy baby and placenta. By moving a body immersed to the shoulders and at an adequate depth so that it's not touching the bottom of the pool, hydrostatic pressure makes the blood flow back to the heart easier. This is an excellent way to stabilize blood pressure.
Another benefit to water workout is alleviation of edema. Movement in water creates twelve pounds of pressure. The pressure squeezes and massages fluid back into the tissue where it is reabsorbed and eliminated. The buoyant effect of a water workout causes no jarring and easier motion, a no-impact form of exercise. The pregnant body can move in ways not possible on land.
Pregnant women should not overheat themselves. Because water has a cooling effect, women can work hard without compromise. Water exercise poses little to no chance of hurting oneself. Buoyancy in pregnancy is so relieving! It enables women to relax and enjoy movement uninhibited.
Jill Cohen has been a lay midwife for 18 years. She is an associate editor at Midwifery Today.