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.