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Pregnant and Still Freediving

We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” — Jacques Yves Cousteau. 

I come from a passionate underwater family – my Mom is a South African underwater hockey player, and my Dad is a Springbok spearfisherman. I grew up by the side of the pool while my parents were playing underwater hockey, and I was the kid who fell asleep in the fish boxes on my Dad’s spearfishing tournaments.

My name is Liz Louw. I am a PADI freediving instructor, and I’m 7-months pregnant. It will be 35-weeks on Mother’s Day (9 May 2021).

I can’t remember when I learnt to swim or the first time I looked at a fish underwater through my mask. What I do know is that my Dad started teaching me spearfishing at the age of 12.
I only discovered freediving was an actual thing in 2012. By then, I was surfing, playing underwater hockey, spearfishing and just spending time underwater in the sea, enjoying the world beneath the surface. In 2012, I discovered that pastime that came so naturally actually was a thing.

I am a registered Biokineticist with an MSc in Neuromuscular Physiology and was trained as a PADI freediving instructor by Trevor Hutton. I recently relocated to Sodwana Bay in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. A move that’s been 10-years in the making.

I would like to fit in as many diving experiences as I can, except scuba diving, for now. I was 6-weeks pregnant at the time of participating in the local Border Open spearfishing competition and got a bronze medal.
We have been enjoying sonar chats with dolphins all along the East Coast, from Cape Infanta in the Overberg, to Hole in the Wall, Transkei and, of course, now up in Sodwana Bay, Zululand.
I’ve continued with training level-1 freediving courses, both in the Cape and Sodwana Bay and even had the opportunity to teach my first blind student how to freedive! Life has been very exciting since the start of this little one. I thought becoming pregnant when I had so many things I still wanted to put in place was a complication, but actually, it really hasn’t been. This little “Sea Bean” is a champion baba!

Considerations

A big plus is having a supportive partner. One that understands and supports your decision to continue diving. Make sure you are very in tune with your body and its needs and especially, never, ever go past any depth or breath-hold length that causes any kind of discomfort.
Read and watch videos, chat with fellow divers and open-minded, clued up health professionals. Learn as much as you can about your growing baba and the physiological effects of freediving and pregnancy. Be a conscious freediving Mom.

Be wary of the sea conditions for entry/exit. If you’re on a boat launch, rather avoid rough launch conditions and make sure you have a competent skipper to navigate your precious cargo through the surf. And as always, dive with a capable and aware buddy. Your little “Sea Bean” doesn’t count as a dive buddy. You are its best buddy!

What motivated you to continue your freediving while pregnant?

There was never any thought to not continue. But I must say, watching Hawaiian spearfisher woman Kimi Werner’s documentary on the Jeju Women of South Korea (Lessons from Motherhood) has been a constant source of affirmation and inspiration during this journey. And every single diving and underwater hockey-playing Mom’s story of how they continued to do what they love helped me know that I am not alone and that there is power in sticking to what I know to be good and proper.

Benefits of Freediving while pregnant

The most significant benefit of freediving while pregnant is the relaxation factor. That zen-like state that the mammalian dive reflex gives you when you submerge effectively washes away any stress and anxiety that can be harmful to your developing baby. Most pregnancy and birth-related complications are a result of chronic stress.

Freediving effectively combats this stress, and the dolphin encounters help, of course. I think only good things can come from my baby enjoying sonar chats with a pod of these mystical, intuitive creatures. I’ve recently heard about some really excellent physiological benefits stemming from these sonar encounters regarding the baby’s growth and development. I still need to do more reading on the subject. It’s definitely got my interest.
Did you suffer any seasickness? More than before you were pregnant?

(She laughs) Yes. Morning sickness and rough sea conditions do not go together. I haven’t ever been seasick before, but it happened on three occasions during the first trimester of my pregnancy. The most notable occasion was when we were swimming past the Hole in the Wall during the Border Open, with the brown river water flooding into the sea and pushing through the hole. Blegh! I got a tournament fine for that one.

Plans after giving birth
Obviously, I will be taking care of my gorgeous little “Ocean Warrior”. I also plan to enjoy some time just sitting still for the first few months. I have plans to open a freediving school and will continue with these plans. I have an exciting project in its infant phases in Mozambique which will hopefully kick off in 2022.

I am also looking at developing a freediving course for the blind, which has much potential for the future of adaptive diving. I still have a lot to do.

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