It’s one of the most joyous events for a woman, but many female divers who become pregnant wonder about the implications of continuing to dive.
The primary concern is the theoretical risk of decompression illness (DCI) to the unborn baby. Since fetal blood circulation bypasses the lungs, any inert gas bubbles that have formed during scuba cannot be filtered out. And the increase in deposited fat during pregnancy and use of constricting dive gear on an expanding midsection and swollen hands and feet can adversely affect inert gas intake and elimination, suggesting an increased risk of DCI for the pregnant diver.
Because it is ethically problematic to study the risks of diving during pregnancy, most research has been conducted with animals or small populations of women who dived prior to knowing they were pregnant. No human studies on the effects on the fetus of diving have been published since 1989. However, those few human studies indicate that the vast majority women diving across all depths reported no problems with their pregnancies or negative outcomes to their child. Still, there were a few cases where the fetus did appear to be seriously harmed by scuba. Both miscarriages and fetal deformities have been loosely linked to diving during gestation.
The recommendation put forth by Divers Alert Network (DAN), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and all U.S. dive-training organizations is that the prudent course of action is for pregnant women to defer scuba until after the child is born.
The truth is we’re not ever likely to know the true risks, so why chance it?
DocVikingo has been scuba certified for more than 35 years and has dived all over the world. He is a practising doctor in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area and has held faculty positions at several major hospitals, including Johns Hopkins. With an interest in diving medicine, he serves as administrator at Scuba Clinic Online.