Leaving the textbooks aside for a moment, the fundamental basis on deciding whether to continue and how much climbing to do through your pregnancy is to listen to yourself. It is a time of unprecedented change and your body will be sending your brain all sorts of confusing and conflicting new messages.
However, never ignore bleeding, pain, injury or disease - stop exercising and see your GP straight away
Listen to your body
Throughout the first trimester (the first 12 weeks of pregnancy) you know you should be eating healthily yet the nausea and sickness can make this impossible. You don't look any different so you think you should be carrying on as normal yet the changes happening inside result in overwhelming tiredness and many women will crave and need rest and sleep above exercise. Not everyone will find the energy to continue climbing or training through this period and that probably means your body needs the rest. However, maintaining even a minimal level of activity early on will make it easier to continue this regime throughout your pregnancy.
During the second trimester (up to week 28 week) the nausea often subsides and energy levels are higher. Most active women will want to continue with their training and climbing and it is now widely accepted that it is healthy for mother and baby to do so. However, never ignore bleeding, pain, injury or disease - stop exercising and see your GP straight away. It may be nothing serious, but it's best to err on the side of caution.
Some time into the third trimester many women will feel too heavy and uncomfortable to maintain a high level of activity. The practicalities of climbing with a big bump are not necessarily strain on the abdomen. Your centre of balance is dramatically changed which makes climbing slabs a joy but overhanging ground becomes an ungainly battle. Eventually you will feel it is time to stop and continue with gentler forms of exercise.
Listen to your head
Climbers are well used to assessing risk and that process is adapted to include the baby
The idea of pregnant women climbing must seem irresponsible to non-climbers. But climbers are well used to assessing risk and that process is adapted to include the baby. In other words, you will find your own personal level of acceptable risk. Alison Hargreaves climbed the North Face of the Eiger, a long, difficult and serious Alpine route when she was 6 months pregnant, but this is an exception - the majority of pregnant climbers are happy to keep ticking over on safer routes, well within their comfort zone.
What are the risks?
Few studies have assessed the effect of climbing or training for climbing on the baby. The most significant risks are as follows:
Climbing with a baby
- Impact of a fall. A high impact fall onto the bump when bouldering or a long leader fall could result in internal damage and should be avoided at all costs. A good workout is possible by seconding and top roping.
- Over Exertion. Avoid long periods of elevated heart rate as the babies heart rate mirrors your. Avoid excessive over heating and extremely stressful situations.
- Objective Danger. Those things out of your control like rockfall will seem a greater threat at this time. Assess the risks and decide whether you really want to be there.
Exactly when you decide to get back to climbing and how long it takes you to regain pre-pregnancy fitness will depend on the nature of the nature of the birth, the character of your baby, your opportunities to get out and your motivation. The following may help you to resume climbing after childbirth:
- Relax for the first week. Don't try to do anything strenuous.
- Begin light exercise during the second week.
- After this, if you have the energy and feel well enough, you can resume light training and wall sessions - but remember to build up gradually. In particular, the ligaments are still very elastic, leaving you vulnerable to injury.
- Few mothers will be unaffected psychologically by the amazing experience of nurturing a new baby, so be gentle on yourself while you get used to the new situation and what you feel comfortable doing.
- Practically, you need to fit in training and climbing around the baby. Young babies are very transportable so it is possible to take baby along to safe, appropriate venues such as a climbing wall, gym or even safe bouldering venue. They also love being carried on your front, and later on your back, so make the most of this time to regain aerobic fitness.
If at times it all seems overwhelming and impossible, try not to panic. Trust me, it will get easier!