Simple Aquatic Exercises for Pregnancy and Postpartum

By Danielle Debulgado, Primary Aquatic Therapist, ATI Physical Therapy 

To most of us, the thought of staying fit while balancing the day’s activities and demands is a hefty undertaking, especially when you’re pregnant or have recently given birth. Typical cardio fitness is often too intense for new mothers and there aren’t many options for receiving an equivalent workout. Now, if we told you there was a safe and easy way to integrate cardio exercises into your day without fail, would you believe us? And what if the elixir was something as simple as water?

We all know water as a key ingredient in maintaining absolute prosperity with our health, but did you know that water can also serve as a great alternative for cardio workouts, rehabilitation, and other forms of training? 

Aquatic-based exercise is a great alternative not only for cardio, but all exercise for expecting and new mothers due to the buoyancy properties of the water. The buoyancy decreases weight bearing, which unloads joints and decreases pressure the growing baby can add. This can result in immediate decrease in aches and pain in the back, hips, and lower extremities. Submerging in chest-high water results in approximately 30-35 percent reduced weight bearing.

Due to the decrease in pressure and weight bearing, pregnant people can increase exercise activity without increasing pain. Additional properties of water, such as hydrostatic pressure, can increase circulation and result in decreased edema (swelling) associated with pregnancy. New parents should be cleared by their doctor to start or return to exercise after birth; this includes aquatic exercise.

Pregnant mothers can integrate aquatics into their routine after first consulting with their physician. For most people, a good rule of thumb is to be as active as you were prepregnancy. For example, if you were an avid runner prior to pregnancy, you can typically run throughout pregnancy. Pending any medical restrictions, pregnant women can typically exercise up to going into labor. Always consult with your physician and listen to your body. You will know if something doesn’t feel right.

Exercising in the water may require the use of the pool wall and some pool noodles so it’s important to maintain your balance at a comfortable depth. If you ever feel like you’re struggling or need assistance while stretching or exercising, ask for help. The most important rule in the pool is: safety comes first.

There are some restrictions when performing aquatic therapy, including but not limited to, fear of water, incontinence, and open wounds/infections. There are also some precautions to be aware of for a pregnant person performing aquatic exercise. Pool temperatures over 90 degrees can cause overheating and increase dehydration and should therefore be avoided. Due to pregnant/postpartum women experiencing increased elasticity in their joints, if you are pregnant, avoid aggressive stretching to prevent injury. Also, some women in pregnant/postpartum stages can experience pubic symphysis dysfunction (PSD). If you are experiencing PSD, “frog kicks” and other asymmetrical movements, such as marching and lunges, should be avoided.

To get you started, ATI Physical Therapy aquatic therapy expert, from Aurora, Ill., Danielle Debulgado, has provided a few simple exercises for your next adventure in the water. All exercise provided in the below infographic could be appropriate for pregnant and postpartum mothers. Exceptions may be to avoid any asymmetrical movements, like marching, for those experiencing pubic symphysis dysfunction.

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About the Author 

Danielle Debulgado serves as ATI Physical Therapy’s primary aquatic therapist. Debulgado has been a certified physical therapy assistant since 2010 and is also a certified Kinesiotaping practitioner. She played collegiate fastpitch softball and was a two-time Academic All-American. She continues to stay active and involved with the sport by instructing private hitting and pitching lessons.




Great Exercise

October 12, 2018 07:09 PM by Jennifer

This article is very helpful. We all know that exercise is very important to our health whether we are pregnant or not. 

Helpful tips

October 12, 2018 07:11 PM by Jennifer

Thank you for sharing. Can't wait to try this exercise soon. 


Jennifer Kessler |

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