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Posted : December 16, 2011
HI sorry - i'm not sure if i ticked the box before. I am 37 yrs in good health. I am a rescue diver with over 100 dives. We are due to go on holiday to the maldives on 24th Dec diving with whale sharks. I have just found out i may be pregnant. My last period ended 19th Nov. Can i dive? Thanks

Posted : December 19, 2011
Thanks for the query. I have to say, my advice is not to dive if you know you are pregnant, or even if you're trying to get pregnant.

One of the issues with diving is that for all the tables and dive computer algorithms we have, there is always a chance, however remote, that you could get a bend. I have seen many divers who have stuck rigidly to the limits of no decompression diving, and still gotten bent. This is because there are many variable factors to take into account. Now, we all take the risk and dive without problems as this decision concerns ourselves only, but the question with pregnancy is what could happen to the unborn child if a problem occurred.

There are some case reports in which pregnant mothers with carbon monoxide poisoning were treated with hyperbaric oxygen in a chamber without adverse effects on the foetus. Conversely, many animal (and some human) studies have noted an increase in the incidence of foetal abnormalities and spontaneous abortions in those who dived whilst pregnant.
Very early in pregnancy, up to two weeks or so, there is no effective blood circulation between the placenta and foetus, so problems are unlikely. Once such a circulation develops, there might be.

Nitrogen bubbles are easily absorbed by neuronal or nerve tissue. If a pregnant diver got a hit but it stayed undiagnosed (as it often does), then the foetus could easily have neurological DCS and you wouldn't be aware of it. This could cause problems later in the unborn child as the nervous system developed in pregnancy. Now I know that a lot of this is speculation as there is not a lot of research on the matter because it wouldn't get past the ethics committee.

Of course, there are also a lot of women who have dived whilst not realising they were pregnant and without any problems, but the key issue is that if you dived, had a bend, and there was a deformity in your child when born, you wouldn’t know if it was due to the nitrogen or some other cause. If it was the nitrogen and it could have been avoided by not diving, it would clearly cause severe levels of guilt in the mother.

So, I always say to just leave it for nine months, as this is not that hard when the downside could be disastrous.

Regards, Dr O
Answer provided by Dr Oliver Firth
Dr Ollie Firth
The views expressed by Dr Firth & Dr Jules are their own and the publishers accept no liability for the advice and views expressed by Dr Firth , Dr Jules, or other users, which are provided as a general service to divers. Users are warned that secondary posts are the views of other users and may not be medically correct.
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