I’m getting mixed messages about the dangers of swimming in a chlorinated pool when pregnant. How serious is the chlorine issue? I just want to swim a little this summer. Should I worry? – Swimming to Hysteria
We have gotten the same mixed messages about chlorine safety; we will try to untangle them for you now. (Spoiler Alert: Nobody knows!)
There was a 2002 study that looked at the connection between swimming in chlorinated pools and risks to the pregnancy. The study was specifically interested in the link between a byproduct of chlorine, trihalomethanes (THMs) and miscarriage, low birth weight, urinary tract problems and neural tube defects. The results were “inconsistent and inconclusive.” Still, the author of the study called for more research and the monitoring of THMs in swimming pools.
THMs occur when chlorine mixes with organic matter such as skin cells, urine, sweat, dirt and some body care products. They tend to be stronger in highly populated, heavily chlorinated pools with low ventilation. Have you ever taken a big whiff of the changing rooms at a public pool? The insanely noxious smell comes not just from the chlorine but from the chlorine reacting to all the organic matter sloshing around on the cement and in the latrines. THM exposure has been associated with other problems; a 2003 study found that children swimming indoors were at greater risk for asthma. There is also a link between long-term exposure to high levels of chlorinated water and some kinds of cancer.
Still, there is no evidence that swimming in a chlorinated pool is risky during pregnancy. In fact, most healthcare professionals insist that the benefits of swimming far outweigh any potential dangers from chlorine exposure. We could go on about the benefits of swimming in pregnancy – there are many! – but we’re guessing you’re onto that part of this story.
If you’re worried about the unknown factor, there are a lot of opinions on how you can minimize possible chlorine exposure. The authors of The Complete Organic Pregnancy recommend avoiding highly populated, heavily chlorinated pools with low ventilation (i.e.: indoors with low ceilings and no windows). And if you do swim indoors, they suggest limiting the amount of time you spend in the pool per week. So you may opt to limit your time in a jam-packed public urban pool or the heavily trafficked basement lap pool at your local gym. We’ve read that taking a good shower before and after swimming can help limit reactions between you and the chlorine. One doctor suggests that a few big deep breaths of fresh air after a swim may help flush out the chemicals in kids! So maybe it’s worth a try for expectant mothers.
As far as we see it, there is plenty of evidence about the benefits or swimming and nothing conclusive about the negatives. So if you want to do some laps – or just float around in a big old rubber tire for that matter – feel free!
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