Climbing has become such an integral part of my life that it is difficult to imagine life without it. It is my main form of exercise and stress relief, a measurement of progress, a vehicle for pushing through challenges, as well as the outlet through which I’ve made some of my closest friends and continue to test and strengthen my relationship with my husband (and belay partner). For me, the thought of giving up climbing for the duration of my pregnancy was unfathomable*. Sure, I’ve gotten some raised eyebrows and comments while climbing pregnant; I’ve been thankful for the support and shrugged off the judgment (which strangely came mostly from men). But here’s my philosophy on climbing while pregnant: at the end of nine months, I will ask my body to do one of the most physically demanding actions I will ever ask it to do. So why would I spend the months leading up to that moment letting my fitness and strength decline? Admittedly, I have not tested this philosophy, am not a doctor, and am no pro (this will be my first baby), but today I offer a few things I’ve learned climbing pregnant, as well as some awesome climbing gear from Mad Rock and Mountain Mama that makes it possible.
1) Talk with your doctor. You’ll find that doctors’ views can differ greatly, so find a doctor who also lives and values an active lifestyle. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Regular exercise can help you cope with the physical changes of pregnancy and build stamina for the challenges ahead.” The further I get into my pregnancy, the more limiting my body becomes. Even light jogging has started to feel quite cumbersome. Climbing is one of the few sports that I can moderate to meet my body’s current ability, and pursue in a controlled and safe way.
2) Listen to your body. Just as my body tells me if it’s in pain, during pregnancy it lets me know when I need to chill out for a while. (The whole “I’m making a baby” thing is a pretty legit excuse for not being able to send a climb). I have become very aware of my breathing, and that my body requires more oxygen. If I find my breathing getting heavy, I take a break or accept that this climb might need to wait for spring time. On the flip side, I find that although I get worn out quicker, I feel a lot happier and sleep better when I’ve climbed.
3) Invest in a Mountain Mama maternity harness. The heavier and fuller my body gets, the more limited the options for staying somewhat active become. Honestly, if it weren’t for the ability to keep climbing, I’d be going a little crazy at this point. Luckily, Mad Rock and Mountain Mama partnered up to design a full body climbing harness with extra leg and back padding specifically for prego women. As my belly got bigger and my regular harness stopped feeling comfortable or safe, I was grateful to have a way to keep me and “lil’ Sharma” climbing, as well as to be able to still remain active in our climbing group by being able to belay others. When I tighten the harness up, I feel super safe and supported climbing or belaying. (Note: if the harness seems to be causing strain on your back or chest, it probably just needs to be tightened). It also conveniently slips on and off without having to undo the automatically doubled-back buckles (convenient when you have to pee every 30 minutes). If you can’t afford a new harness on top of all the other baby gear you’re about to buy, talk to your local gym about investing in maternity harnesses. For example, our local gym, MetroRock, recently started carrying a few maternity harnesses for pregnant climbers to rent.
4) Use this time to focus on technique. I lead climbed and bouldered until about 5 months but was also very conscientious of the types of climbs I was willing to lead and boulder (and potential falls I could take). I wasn’t willing to climb some routes or attempt some boulder problems. Instead of focusing on sending a route or problem, I’ve focused on technique such as good footwork or climbing open-handed.
5) Think of the extra weight as “training weight”. You know those hard-core dudes at the gym who climb with a weight vest? Well I’ve just joined their training club! Instead of getting down about the weight gain I’m experiencing, I’ve shifted my mindset to think of every pound (in addition to making my beautiful baby) as my “weight vest” training for the next climbing season. As I’m unable to climb as hard as I was pre-prego, I’ve started training my grip strength on a hang board (always listening to my body of course). Although I will undoubtedly lose some core and endurance, hopefully I can keep my finger strength up!
6) Climbing + Pregnancy + Fashion does exist. Just because your Lulu gear isn’t going to cut it for maternity wear, doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel on your climbing fashion 😉 In addition to Mountain Mama’s harness, I’m stoked on their outdoor maternity clothes. They get that girls like us are going to keep getting down and dirty, hiking and climbing even when we’re growing a baby. Somehow they managed to design gear that’s cute like the criss-crossed back Marni Movement Maternity Tank, won’t flash your belly or butt, stretches enough but not too much, wicks sweat, is super soft, and also works to keep you warm when layered. My favorite is their Leah Rolldown Yoga Maternity Pant that allows you to wear the pants three different ways depending on how you cinch the bottom tie, awesome for climbing in all types of weather or just wanting to cinch your pants up while climbing. On top of that, the top flap of the pant can be folded as a half panel for early in your pregnancy or unfolded for full panel support later. (They also designed their gear to fit throughout your pregnancy, so I will most likely still be wearing their stuff even after I’ve popped out “Lil’ Sharma.”) The best part of their gear? Thumb holes, like in their Whitney Long Sleeve Eco Tee and in their San Juan Eco Hoodie! Just to note, their clothing does run big, so size down one size (the one time in your pregnancy when you’ll be able to do that).
Did you climb during your pregnancy? Share your stories or tips with us!
Climb on! ~Cate
*The decision to climb through your pregnancy is obviously a personal and individual decision and should be done with approval from your doctor. By no means do I intend for my words to come across as criticizing any woman who decided not to climb during her pregnancy.