As a PADI Course Director, I often meet women who used to dive but haven’t since having a baby. Reasons vary from having no time to worries it may be dangerous too soon, to believing their fitness and body changes will affect their diving. Let’s review why scuba diving after having a baby is a great activity to begin again as soon as you can, and how to do it safely and comfortably.
Before we discuss diving after giving birth it’s important to remember that you should not scuba dive while pregnant. This sucks, especially when you dive for work. It can be tempting to ignore this advice as being in the water is so comforting when pregnant, but because we know very little about the effect scuba diving can have on the unborn baby it’s better to stop all together. Like thousands of other women, I was still scuba diving before I found out I was pregnant but as long as this is in the early days and you stop as soon as you find out please try not to worry.
To help with your ocean-withdrawal symptoms I highly recommend snorkeling throughout your pregnancy as this is a great form of gentle exercise and wonderful for your mental relaxation. As you grow large, it’s also fantastic to take the weight off your feet and float around with the fish. Be careful entering and exiting the water and take care walking on any boat. Visit snorkel sites close to shore and have friends or family onboard to assist you on boat trips.
How long should you wait before scuba diving again?
Only your own doctor, who dealt with your delivery and after care, can answer this question. From my personal experience and discussions with many doctors, the general advice — when no major complications are involved — is that after a vaginal delivery you should wait at least four weeks and after a Cesarean delivery (C-section), wait at least six to eight weeks.
The Divers Alert Network (DAN) additionally states that any moderate or severe medical complications of pregnancy, such as twins, pre-term labor, hypertension or diabetes, may further delay a return to diving. Prolonged bed rest in these cases may have led to profound de-conditioning 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 returning to diving. I personally had a C-section, so I waited six weeks before going diving again.
There are several things to discuss with respect to dive equipment involving safety, fit and comfort. If you have your own gear, the first thing you will want to do is have your regulator and BCD checked and serviced. Turn on your dive computer to check battery is good or if it needs replacing.
Your body has changed dramatically, and you may notice you still have swollen feet. It’s normal to carry a few extra pounds of body fat, so check that your wetsuit boots and/or fins and your wetsuit/drysuit still fits comfortably. After a C-section your abdomen will be sore, so you do not want to fight to put on a wetsuit or have one that is too tight across your stomach. If you’re struggling, get a bigger size.
You should not do any heavy lifting of the dive gear or tank until you have fully regained strength and fitness (this varies for each woman). Someone should carry your gear to and from the boat/shore and you should put it on in the water. Remove it in the water as well before exiting onto the boat/shore.
Before the dive, complete a buoyancy check to know exactly how much weight you need, as your requirements may have changed. For comfort, use a BCD with an integrated weight system rather than a weight belt.
Fitness and strength
After giving birth it will take time to regain your fitness, so build up slowly. As mentioned, avoid carrying heavy tanks and dive gear until you are fully recovered. Start with some easy dives and avoid strong currents, waves and other environmental factors that could lead to overexertion. Outside of diving, participate in other exercise and weight training to get you ready to deal with more challenging dives.
If you are a recreational diver, I propose doing a refresher course first as you may have been out of the water for nearly 12 months with the pregnancy and recovery time. Most agencies and dive shops offer some type of refresher program. This will really help your confidence and make you feel ready to jump back in.
Dive professionals may not feel it’s necessary to take a refresher course. Instead, I recommend starting off with a few easy dives to see how your body responds. Only start teaching again once you are fully fit and able to physically rescue a diver if necessary. Do not feel pressure to start working again until the time is right for you.
It felt so good to be back underwater after just six weeks. I was breastfeeding, however, and if I went diving for half a day, my breasts would become full and start to ache. To help overcome this I purchased a portable battery-operated breast pump and pumped before and immediately after diving. Not all boats have a private area for you to do this, so sometimes you may have to wait until you’re back at the dive shop.
Hair and skin protection
Your hair will suffer during and after having a baby. Sun and salt are not good for your hair either, so it’s vital to use a good conditioner in your hair. Take a bottle of leave-in conditioner to top up between dives and wear a hat while on the surface to protect against harmful rays. Coconut oil is a great moisturizer for your hair as well and just a few drops will help keep it supple and smooth.
Protected your skin with a high-factor sunscreen that does not contain chemicals harmful to the ocean. There are many excellent reef-safe products to choose from now on the market. If you are not loving your post-baby belly or want to keep your C-section scar out of the sun, like I did, choose a cute one-piece bathing suit to provide more cover.
At the beginning, dive at familiar dive sites with good conditions if possible. Ask a dive buddy who won’t mind doing your heavy lifting and assisting you in and out of the water. Stay within your comfort zone and well within your no-decompression limits while you listen to your body’s needs and rebuild your strength, fitness and confidence.
Jump back in
Not diving for nearly 12 months was such a challenge for me and jumping back in after just six weeks was complete heaven. Diving quickly helped me recover my fitness levels and gave me a much-needed break from caring for the baby, which helps so much mentally.
It’s important to resume activities again that you love, especially those that will help you recover from childbirth both physically and emotionally. My best advice is to jump back in as soon as you can, however, if it’s been months — or even years — then reach out to your local dive shop for a refresher. It’s never too late to start scuba diving again…you’ll be so glad you took the plunge.
Images courtesy of the author