Updated: Apr 6
You’re a climber….and now you’re pregnant. Many people might think that being a rock climber and being pregnant are mutually exclusive - but thankfully, the world of climbing while pregnant has started to grow in a beautiful and supportive way.
We know that the number of climbers who are women continues to increase each year, which means the number of pregnant climbers will continue to increase as well. If you are a woman choosing to climb during pregnancy, there are inevitably questions that will pop up during each trimester in regards to climbing and pregnancy. While every pregnancy is unique, there are a few considerations that will be shared among most uncomplicated pregnancies.
If you’re wondering what you need to consider during each trimester for climbing, keep reading, because you’re in the right place!
*Please keep in mind that this should not be considered medical advice and your care provider should be consulted if you have questions or concerns*
The First Trimester (Weeks 4-12)
While your body may not have much to show for it, there is an enormous amount of activity going on during those first few weeks of pregnancy. From a climbing standpoint, here are a few things that are important to consider during the first trimester:
Relaxin Hormone - The hormone Relaxin, which acts on connective tissue throughout the body (but effects are generally felt in the pelvis and ribcage) will peak during the last part of the first trimester and remain relatively stable until after birth. For climbers, this can be important when we are considering the stability of our pelvis. There are no movements in particular that should be avoided, but knowing when this hormone peaks, and that you may (or may not) experience less stability is helpful to understand. Increasing muscular strength around the pelvis is one of the best strategies for giving the pelvis more stability during pregnancy.
‘Morning’ Sickness - This common side effect of pregnancy includes not only nausea, but also vomiting, fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, and the list goes on! These symptoms are largely due to the hormonal avalanche that’s happening inside your body. Recognize that even though you can’t see it, your body is hard at work. Giving yourself more rest days, or decreasing intensity during your workouts, is highly recommended if you’re feeling any of these symptoms. You need to allow your body’s priority to be on the pregnancy, and overly intense or taxing sessions, may tend to make these symptoms worse.
Mitigating Risk - Climbing inherently has more risks involved than, perhaps water aerobics, but many of these risks you are able to mitigate extremely well as an experienced and knowledgeable climber. The amount of risk you are comfortable with taking is your own personal decision. We do not have any research telling us that ‘X risk is okay’ and ‘Y risk will create a negative outcome’. Many women lead or boulder well into the pregnancy while others choose to only top rope once they find out they are pregnant. Your choice should be what feels right to you - and you are certainly allowed to change your mind about what feels right as the pregnancy progresses.
Second Trimester (Weeks 13-26)
You can expect to start seeing proof of all your hard work - in the form of a baby bump sometime during this trimester. Along with how amazing your bump is on the wall, here are a few other things to think about when it comes to climbing during the second trimester:
Pregnancy Harness - During the second trimester, the uterus will no longer fit down and inside of the pelvis. This means that your regular harness may start to feel uncomfortable. In general, a harness that is worn above the belly button will not be pushing against the uterus until later in the second trimester but this does not mean that you have to wait until then to switch. A pregnancy harness is meant to allow you to continue climbing without putting pressure across the abdomen. Please keep in mind that wearing a bigger harness (not pregnancy) should be done with caution. The harness needs to be worn and fitted correctly, and a loose harness is not recommended.
Steep Terrain - As the belly starts to expand more during the second trimester, the muscles of the abdomen become more lengthened. This length means that these muscles are not able to generate as much force and power3 as they used to - which can really make an impact when climbing steep terrain. When climbing routes or problems that have steeper terrain, be mindful of breath holding (this creates more pressure on your core and pelvic floor) as well as any discomfort in the abdomen (stretching or pulling sensations). You don’t have to ditch the steep terrain, just pay attention to what your body is telling you while you’re climbing.
Balance - You may start to notice that those techy climbs with tiny feet and balance moves feel much harder than they used to - and with good reason. As the pregnancy progresses, your center of gravity changes and the balance that you once had is thrown completely off. This is good to remember and keep in mind if you are on terrain that tends to be more technical and requires delicate balance. Making sure that you’re not only relying on your balance but also keeping tension throughout the body to help guide you through these movements can be really helpful.
Third Trimester (Weeks 27- Birth)
Climb Until….? - There is no set date at which you should ‘stop’ climbing. This is a personal decision and should be one that feels good to you. What’s most important to keep in mind is that labor and delivery are extremely taxing physical events. Much like you would give yourself some rest before going out to try a hard project, you should give yourself some extra rest as you get closer to your due date. You want your body to be ready to give your hardest project to date (birth!) 100% when it is ‘go time’.
Braxton Hicks - These contractions are basically ‘practice’ contractions that some women experience and others do not. They are not dangerous but there are a few things you need to keep in mind if you are experiencing them. If they are happening while you’re climbing, once you stop climbing, they should stop within a few minutes. Make sure you’re hydrating very well, as many times dehydration can cause this to happen with more frequency or intensity. If you’re noticing them increase as you get closer to birth, decreasing the intensity of your activity can help keep the uterus a bit calmer. Finally, if you find that they are not stopping and coming at regular intervals, you should call your provider.
Pelvic Floor - During the third trimester, the pelvic floor is under quite high demand due to the weight of baby, amniotic fluid, increased blood volume, as well as pregnancy weight gain in general. It is important to note if you are experiencing pelvic floor symptoms while climbing, such as peeing, pain, or feelings of heaviness (just to name a few, there are many more) this is a sign that your pelvic floor is not handling the demand of the task you’re asking it to do well. Seeing a pelvic floor physio is a great way to be proactive about your pelvic floor health. They can help you understand if you need strength, endurance, coordination, relaxation, or a mixture therein to restore optimal function of your pelvic floor.
Climbing during pregnancy can be a wonderful way to move, stay strong, and stay active during pregnancy. Learning more about the ways in which your body changes during pregnancy, and how that relates to climbing is extremely empowering. We need to understand the changes that our body is going through so that we are able to make informed decisions around movement, on, and off the wall.
Stay Strong and Climb On!
American Alpine Club. State of Climbing Report. https://aac-publications.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/State_of_Climbing_Report_2019_Web.pdf
Conrad, K. P. (2011). Emerging Role of Relaxin in the Maternal Adaptations to Normal Pregnancy: Implications for Preeclampsia. Seminars in Nephrology, 31(1), 15–32. doi:10.1016/j.semnephrol.2010
Brughelli, Matt, and John Cronin. “Altering the Length-Tension Relationship with Eccentric Exercise.” Sports Medicine, vol. 37, no. 9, 2007, pp. 807–826., https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200737090-00004.