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Pregnancy and Diving

Women of all ages have unique needs in terms of overall health, and it is very individualized and determined by many personal and environmental factors. There are a broad scope of health concerns — including certain cancers or complications from certain procedures — and the symptoms and severity of many conditions vary from each individual, which can make it hard to diagnose or treat.  Another concern for woman is finding out that you are pregnant and want to continue diving.

Pregnancy is the period of time in which a fetus develops inside a woman’s uterus. A woman’s pregnancy usually lasts about 40 weeks — just over nine months — as measured from the last menstrual period to delivery. An estimated due date can be calculated by determining the first day of the last menstrual period and counting back three months from that date. Then, add one year and seven days to that date. This is called Naegele’s Rule and based on a typical 28-day cycle.

 Implications in Diving
 There is little scientific data available regarding diving while pregnant. Much of the available evidence is anecdotal. Laboratory studies are confined to animal research and the results are conflicting. Some retrospective survey type questionnaires have been performed but are limited by data interpretation.

 An issue to keep in mind is the risk of decompression illness (DCI) to the mother due to the physiological changes which occur while pregnant. During pregnancy, maternal body fluid distribution is altered, and this redistribution decreases the exchange of dissolved gases in the central circulation. Theoretically, this fluid may be a site of nitrogen retention. Fluid retention during pregnancy may also cause nasopharyngeal swelling, which can lead to nose and ear stuffiness. In regards to diving, these may increase a pregnant woman’s risk of ear or sinus squeezes.

Pregnant women experiencing morning sickness, which could then couple with motion sickness from a rocking boat, may have to deal with nausea and vomiting during a dive. This is an unpleasant experience and could lead to more serious problems if the diver panics.

 Due to the limited data available and the uncertainty of the effects of diving on a fetus, diving represents an increased exposure for the risk of injury during pregnancy. There’s a baseline incidence of injury including cases of DCI in diving. One must consider the effects on the fetus if the mother must undergo recompression treatment.

Return to diving after giving birth

Diving, like any other sport, requires a certain degree of conditioning and fitness. Divers who want to return to diving postpartum (after having a child) should follow the guidelines suggested for other sports and activities.

 Implications in Diving 
 After a vaginal delivery, women can usually resume light to moderate activity within one to three weeks. This depends of several factors: prior level of conditioning; exercise and conditioning during pregnancy; pregnancy-related complications; postpartum fatigue; and anemia, if any. Women who have exercise regimens prior to pregnancy and birth generally resume exercise programs and sports participation in earnest at three to four weeks after giving birth.

 Obstetricians generally recommend avoiding sexual intercourse and immersion for 21 days postpartum. This allows the cervix to close, decreasing the risk of introducing infection into the genital tract. A good rule of thumb is to wait four weeks after delivery before returning to diving.

 After a cesarean delivery (often called a C-section, made via a surgical incision through the walls of the abdomen and uterus), wound-healing has to be included in the equation. Most obstetricians advise waiting at least four to six weeks after this kind of delivery before resuming full activity. Given the need to regain some measure of lost conditioning, coupled with wound healing, and the significant weight-bearing load of carrying dive gear, it’s advisable to wait at least eight weeks after a C-section before returning to diving.

 Any moderate or severe medical complication of pregnancy – such as twins, pre-term labor, hypertension or diabetes – may further delay return to diving. Prolonged bed rest in these cases may have led to profound deconditioning and loss of aerobic capacity and muscle mass. For women who have had deliveries with medical complications, a medical screening and clearance are advisable before they return to diving.

 Caring for a newborn may interfere with a woman’s attempts to recover her strength and stamina. Newborn care, characterized by poor sleep and fatigue, is a rigorous and demanding time in life.


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