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Why Pregnant Women Should Not Dive

An excellent and thorough answer by a DAN Staff Medical Specialist as to why pregnant women should not dive.

The medical literature we have available recommends that a woman not dive if she is either pregnant or attempting to get pregnant. There have been animal studies which have been inconclusive, and there have been no human studies.

If the mother were to get Decompression Sickness (DCS) or an Arterial Gas Embolism (AGE) this could be a potential a risk to the fetus, as could Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO), which is the treatment for these injuries.

In addition, there is a concern with venous (in the veins) bubbles. As you may be aware, many healthy adults have "silent" or asymptomatic bubbles in their venous system on even very conservative shallow dives. These bubbles usually do not cause a problem because of the way the blood flows through the body. Venous blood flows to the heart, to the lungs where it is oxygenated, back to the heart, and out to the body via the arteries. The lungs not only oxygenate the blood but filter out these bubbles, which is why they generally do not cause a problem. A fetus, however, gets its oxygenated blood from its mother, and does not use its lungs until it is born. Because the lungs are not functional, there are shunting mechanisms which allow the venous blood to go from the veins to the heart and then directly out the arteries. If the fetus were to have venous bubbles, they would become arterial bubbles, and then possibly become arterial gas emboli or AGE.

Because of these potential risks to the fetus, it is generally recommended that a pregnant woman not dive during the entire pregnancy.

Bennett and Elliott, The Physiology and Medicine of Diving, 4th ed., 1993.
Bove and Davis, Diving Medicine, 2nd ed., 1990.
Davis, Medical Examination of Sport Scuba Divers, 2nd ed., 1986.
Deuker, Scuba Diving in Safety and Health, 2nd ed., 1985.
Edmonds, Lowry, Pennefeather, Diving and Subaquatic Medicine, 3rd ed. 1992.
Edmonds, McKenzie, and Thomas, Diving Medicine for Scuba Divers, 1992

Bruce Delphia, B.Sc., NREMT-P, DMT-A
DAN Staff Medical Specialist

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