With all the emphasis on exercise and physical fitness these days, it seems amazing that just twenty years ago doctors advised pregnant women to ‘rest up’ and cut back on exercise while pregnant. The jury is in, and doctors now advise that exercise is good for expectant mothers and their babies – both pre-delivery and postpartum. One of the best exercises for expectant mothers is swimming, because it is easy on pregnancy-vulnerable joints, the cool water prevents you from overheating, and the buoyancy of water alleviates some of the stresses of gravity on the extra weight you are carrying. I swam while pregnant, and I found swimming to be a lifesaver for me when I could no longer jog, do karate or do pilates. I actually managed to swim right up until the day before I gave birth, and feel like swimming helped me to stay in shape and have a complication-free birth.

Dara Torres, Mom & Olympian

Olympic Gold medalist (at the age of 41!?), and mom Dara Torres, is a testament to the wonders of swimming for a pregnant mom’s bod – and just about for any bod. An athlete with an awe-inspiring physique, Dara gained 36 pounds during her pregnancy, but managed to lose all of the baby weight within the first 2-3 weeks postpartum. Oh, and on top of that feat, she also managed to set a record as the oldest swimmer ever to get an Olympic medal – at age 41 – in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Feeling inspired, moms to be?

Mom bloggers line up to meet Dara Torres!Mom bloggers line up to meet Olympic momspiration Dara Torrers

I recently had the opportunity to meet Dara Torres at ‘mom blogger’ event sponsored by HP Moms For Simplicity. I was fascinated by her athleticism and how it worked with her life as mother, so I asked her a couple questions:

How much did you swim/train while pregnant? How did swimming work for you in terms of staying in shape while pregnant?

I swam and did pregnancy-safe lifting exercises 3 to 4 days a week while I was pregnant. I trained up to the day before giving birth. Swimming is a great way to stay in shape while pregnant; it’s a great cardio workout that improves overall health for you and the baby.

Dara Torres shows off her arms of steel

I heard you lost all the baby weight within 2-3 weeks of giving birth – I assume due to swimming?

I didn’t gain much baby weight during my pregnancy, swimming kept me at a healthy weight. Staying in shape is the main part of my job as an Olympic swimmer so I’m really strict when it comes to working out; I was back in the gym a week and a half after giving birth.

Would you recommend swimming to non Olympian moms-to-be?

Yes, I would definitely recommend it. Swimming is a low impact exercise and is better for your body than running and other high impact exercises when you’re pregnant. I was really nauseous in the beginning of my pregnancy and swimming really helped with my nausea.

Dara Torres at the HP Simplicity Mom Blogger event

What is your exercise advice to non Olympian moms-to-be who want to stay in shape during and after pregnancy?

You shouldn’t start working out as soon as you find out that your pregnant, you need to keep your daily regimen but do it moderately. You should definitely talk to your doctor about exercising and what is safe for you individually.

Is your baby swimming yet?
Yes she started swim lessons at a year old.

Dara training at the Asphalt Green pool in NYC

Of course, Dara Torres is a professional athlete with a stable of personal trainers, who works out several hours each day. Still, she stands as a testament to the power and possibilities for women young and old, and should be an inspiration to us all.

The Asphalt Green pool in NYC

So, moms-to-be, feeling inspired to don your swimsuit and goggles and take the plunge? Some eco and health-conscious women may ask: what about all the chlorine in swimming pools? I wondered the same thing myself when I was pregnant. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of research out there – nor are there a lot of good non-chlorinated pool options out there. Here’s what I found out:

1. Despite the fact that chlorine smells toxic and nasty, there is no real conclusive research to whether there are any potentially harmful side-effects of chlorine on pregnancy. A 2002 study tried to investigate the issue of chlorine on pregnancy, and the results were “inconsistent and inconclusive.”

2. Natural, non-chlorinated pools are beautiful examples of biomimetic design at work, but it is almost impossible to find a public or community swimming pool built around this sort of natural system. Christina Chambers, an epidemiologist in San Diego, says “getting into an unchlorinated pool might be more of a risk than a chlorinated one, since swimmers there might acquire an infection.”

3. However, there IS plenty of well documented evidence that low-intensity (low-heat) aerobic activity is very beneficial for pregnant women. Therefore it would seem that the well known positives of swimming while pregnant far outweigh any potential negative side-effects of chlorine — so we say take the plunge and swim while pregnant!