A common question we hear is about whether or not it is safe to Stand Up Paddleboard while pregnant. I will begin by saying, the ONLY person qualified to answer this question is the pregnant woman who is interested to SUP, with advice from her doctor or prenatal caregiver.
As a Certified Pre/Postnatal fitness specialist, a Certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Advanced Flatwater Stand Up Paddleboard Instructor and also a Mom of two, I feel qualified to help you answer this question.
Firstly, so many people ask this because SUP is a super fun, relaxing, adventurous way to stay active and nobody wants to miss out, even when paddling for two! Loads of women keep up their active lifestyle, including Stand Up Paddle boarding. Strengthening the muscles involved in balance and paddling (deep core, hip flexors, glute meds, back, legs…) is key to avoiding the curved back (lordosis) and waddle characteristic of pregnancy, and reduces the discomforts of pregnancy! Staying active is a huge part of a healthy pregnancy, delivery and recovery and SUP fits that bill!
There are several things to consider that are going to help you decide, but the main points are that there are ways to mitigate risks, modify activity and keep yourself and your baby safe so you can enjoy your SUP while pregnant.
- Exertive exercise while pregnant- Based on your current level of fitness you can decide if SUP is a suitable activity- first trimester is a time when you may feel fatigue and is a time to maintain or reduce activity. Second trimester is a time when it is generally safe to make small to moderate gains in your fitness. Third trimester is a time when you may feel discomfort and elevated levels of progesterone will increase your perceived level of exertion, naturally decreasing activity. If you plan to use your SUP in a way that you normally do, it should be safe to do so as long as you mitigate your risks. If you are new to SUP you can judge if you are comfortable to take on this new activity based on your balance, coordination, history of success when engaging in new activities. You are an individual and you know best!
- Falls- Yes, you may fall off of your paddle board. You may fall onto your paddle board. I have seen a lot of falls and they are usually flopping over into the water, or onto the hands and knees onto the board, but it is not impossible to fall at a weird angle and somehow onto your belly- much like walking up and down stairs or over a curb. The risk of falling is always greater when standing, less when on your knees, and even less when on your bum. I have seen people fall multiple times when just trying to get onto their hands and knees- if this sounds like you, pregnancy may not be the best time to take up SUP. If you are pretty active, kneeling may be a safe position for you to SUP. If you are experienced, have excellent balance and confidence, you will probably be fine to stand up and paddle in flat water. One way to mitigate risk of falls is to make sure you are on a stable board, like the 34” wide InfiniteMantra Yoga board by SeaGods, and stay at your comfort level, bum, knees, or feet. An inflatable board is more stable and forgiving if you fall vs a hardboard.
- Heat and Hydration- These are things to consider any time, but especially during pregnancy. If you are hot and thirsty, so is your baby. If you go for a SUP on a hot day, please prepare so you have enough water, and are not getting overheated.
- Getting onto your board- Please realize that pulling yourself back onto your board if you do fall could be a bit different with a large protruding belly! Take into account that this is a possible risk and have some plan in place to get back on, whether it is strength to get on sideways, to swim to a shallow, or have help from a friend.
Common Myths and Misconceptions about exercising when pregnant:
Myth: Pregnant women are fragile and should not exert themselves because it will stimulate premature labour
Truth: Pregnancy is a special state of health, not illness! Research has clearly demonstrated that pregnant women should not be discouraged from regular daily activity, active living and structured exercise. The risks from stress, depression and diabetes should be weighed against any perceived risks from activity
Myth: Abdominal exercise is to be forbidden as it may harm the baby
Truth: Abdominal exercise in pregnancy is fine, deep core exercises will help alleviate low back pain and make delivery and recovery easier. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommend abdominal exercise be performed standing, sitting or modified techniques after the 4th month (avoid laying on your back). Paddling your SUP fits the bill perfectly!
Benefits of exercise during pregnancy are numerous, just like exercising any time!
Balancing and Paddling on your SUP will engage your core muscles, reducing one of them most common complaints in Pregnancy- Backaches!
Balancing on your SUP will engage and strengthen the muscles in your legs, helping push the blood back up to the heart and reducing discomfort from varicose veins.
Finding your sanctuary out on the water will have great psychological benefits to help cope with stress, and physical activity may help pregnant women cope with the anatomical and physiological changes and discomforts associated with pregnancy.
What about the baby? Fetal heart rate has been shown to increase during and immediately after maternal exercise, helping the fetus deal effectively with intermittent reductions in uterine blood flow and oxygen delivery. Basically, your baby is getting a workout too! This helps to reduce fetal stress during labour- Studies show that babies of exercising mothers tolerate contractions much better than babies of sedentary mothers, are stress free, have enough oxygen and low acid accumulation in the blood.
“What I like about being pregnant and paddle boarding is that you can enjoy time on the water while being pregnant. It is an amazing feeling to share it with a little baby inside, although he or she can’t see yet, but have the feeling somehow that they can experience it already. Being on the water is my passion and of course one day I hope my kids will enjoy and feel this, one day too when they grow up, ad learn to respect nature.” That is from Eva Oude Ophuis, pictured paddling in the sunset in this blog. What a wonderful sentiment about sharing your bliss with your yet to be born child! (Follow her on Instagram at eva_oude_ophuis for more inspiration!)
The risks of exercise during pregnancy are:
Maternal acute Hypoglycemia (low bloodsugar), Chronic Fatigue, Musculoskeletal injury.
Fetal hyperthermia during prolonged exercise, reduced carbohydrate availablily, reduced oxygen availability.
Basically, if you are hungry, tired and out of breath, your developing baby is too! If you are exercising at a level that reduces your stress, makes you stronger, happy, manages your weight, strengthens your heart and lungs, it is good for you and your baby! Don’t take my word for it, but consider it along with the advice from your doctor, prenatal caregiver, and the cues from your own body and baby. Enjoy your prenatal journey!
When calculating risks, traveling in your car is probably the highest risk you take all day. If you use common sense and mitigate the risks in your activities, Stand Up Paddleboarding can be a safe and fun venture to enjoy while pregnant! Know your limits and stay within them, and it never hurts to bring along a partner to do the heavy lifting and help you if you need it.
*Photo courtesy of Eva Oude Ophuis, captured by talented photographer Jan Peter van Popta*