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I've just found out I'm pregnant. When do I have to stop diving?

Fitness and Diving Issue
Sifting through the published literature
reveals why there is debate over the topic.
Data are limited and, in many cases,
apparently inconsistent. While this makes
drawing conclusions more difficult, it
should not be surprising.
Science is very rarely as clear-cut as
might be desired. It is difficult to design
an ethical experiment that tests only the
variable of interest and controls for all
others. It is the researcher’s job to design
the best experiments possible, and it is the
individual’s or advocate’s responsibility to examine the results and decide how
to best respond to them.
The question of diving and pregnancy is
a difficult one to study since the trend is
for women to refrain from diving while
pregnant2. Most physicians treat diving
as they would any drug for which the
evidence with respect to pregnancy is
incomplete: If there is not a good reason
to take it, avoid it.
Anyone who inadvertently dives while
pregnant, however, may take solace in
the anecdotal evidence from women
reporting repeated diving during pregnancy
without complication. There is
certainly insufficient evidence to warrant
termination of a pregnancy. Moreover, if
emergency hyperbaric oxygen is required
during pregnancy, for example to treat
carbon monoxide poisoning, the evidence
suggests that the risk to the fetus
with treatment is lower than without.
The overall picture of the literature
indicates that, while the effect may be
small, diving during pregnancy does
increase the risk to the fetus, and the
consequences could be devastating to
all involved. Appreciating these essential
factors, the prudent course is to avoid
diving while pregnant. While it is possible
that some diving could be completed
without impact, the absolute risk of any
given exposure cannot be determined
from the available data. Given the ethical
challenges of research on diving during
pregnancy and the fact that diving represents
a completely avoidable risk for most
women, it is unlikely that studies will be
conducted to establish the absolute risk
in the foreseeable future.
About the Authors

  • H E AT H E R H E L D c o m p l e t e d a n
    undergraduate degree in biomedical science
    at Texas A&M University in December 2005.
    She was placed at the Center for Hyperbaric
    Medicine and Environmental Physiology,
    Duke University Medical Center, Durham,
    N.C., as a DAN research intern in the
    summer of 2006.
  • NEAL POLLOCK is a research physiologist
    at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and
    Environmental Physiology, Duke University
    Medical Center, Durham, N.C.,