Should I or shouldn’t I…
I found out that I was pregnant during a rock climbing trip in Arco, Italy. Put on the spot, I had immediate concerns about climbing pregnant. On one hand I had trained for weeks to be in the best shape possible for this trip – traveling anywhere outside of Australia is a big investment of time and money – but on the other hand I did not want to do anything to hurt the baby and/or myself. So, should I climb pregnant or shouldn’t I?
1 to 12 weeks
I was around 7 weeks pregnant in Arco. I did my research and asked my questions, but the info about climbing during pregnancy is quite limited. Rock climbing is often put in the “high risk” category when it comes to sports in pregnancy. After a lot of reading the first thing that appeared evident was the widespread lack of knowledge that health professionals have about rock climbing. Most advice on the general pregnancy websites does not come from rock climbing specialists but from people who have very little knowledge of what climbing does to your body. They might be health specialists but they don’t necessarily know what climbing involves. The main concern that comes to people’s mind is “the risk of falling” which could be dangerous for the mother and the baby. But here is the thing, even if there is an evident risk of falling fairly hard when lead climbing – sometimes a few metres with the risk of bashing hard into the wall – top rope climbing is almost never mentioned. The distinction is important when it comes to safety. In my opinion a health professional that does not understand the distinction between top rope climbing and lead climbing can hardly guide you in making a well-informed decision. Basically, even if climbing will always be a somewhat risky sport, I can significantly reduce the falling-related risks while top rope climbing. If I ever “fall”, and if my belay partner is trustworthy, I risk slipping of a few centimetres at worst. Finally, I came to the conclusion that I will stop lead climbing until I had the OK from my obstetrician. I felt comfortable climbing on top rope (or seconding multi-pitches) and physically capable of doing it so better to listen to my body than to stop moving.
12 to 16 weeks
At 8 weeks and a few days I was back in Sydney and had started the spiral of medical appointments that comes with pregnancy. I am lucky enough to have had an extraordinary pregnancy so far. I barely had any morning sickness, no cravings, no emotional up and down, only a big urge to sleep 12 hours per night. I was still doing my regular workout at the climbing gym, bouldering gently – I avoided falling from the start and was bouldering low from the ground. My reasoning was that at that stage the little bub is still protected inside my pelvic bones, as my uterus was not completely in the upper position. I had no sign of a baby belly before at least 20 weeks and wasn’t bothered by any change in centre of gravity. The main thing that was hard to deal with was tiredness! Damn, I was tired! This is when I realised that I could no longer push myself and I had to rest twice as much as usual especially after a long training session. My back also started to be quite sore at around 12 weeks. I decided to stop running at 14 weeks as my back could no longer take it and I was afraid to awaken an old knee injury due to the hormone relaxin – the one that makes your joints looser.
From 14 weeks onwards I got a full body harness. We were quite lucky to find one for free on a climbing forum. This nice climber couple, who are parents of two, generously offered to lend us their full body harness that had seen several mothers climbing in it. It felt weird at first but I would no longer climb without it at that stage! It switches the pressure from your waist to your upper body making it a bit uncomfortable for big pregnant-lady boobs… but it feels safer.
At 16 weeks I decided to change my obstetrician. I wasn’t comfortable with the one I had chosen and decided to go with a woman. Her advice: “keep doing what you were doing before your pregnancy but make sure you get plenty of rest.” I also met the midwife from our hospital’s maternity ward and despite me trying to explain what it means to top-rope and insisting on my full body harness she got really aggressive! I was not impressed by her comment about climbing: “climbing is a dangerous sport and it would be irresponsible to climb while pregnant”. Then I GOT ANNOYED… how can you judge me when you have no idea what you are talking about?
16 to 25 weeks
At 16 weeks I could finally feel a tiny tiny bit of kicking in my belly! I rapidly became addicted to those little kicks that resemble muscles spasms. At 20 weeks a tiny belly showed up and it started to feel way more real! Oh my god, we are actually going to have a baby… I noticed from 20 weeks onward that the little bub seemed to move a lot more after I exercised no matter what I did and it made me feel like I was doing the right thing. At 22 weeks we went to Palm Beach where I was impressed to see no significative change in my climbing. I was still able to climb a grade 19 (5.10b) route with no problem. I also felt stronger – probably a side effect of those extra 7 kilos! As my pressure was a bit high – it runs in the family – I decided that training had to be a priority as well as cutting salt and caffeine in my diet (bye bye chips…). That is where I am now: 25 weeks and still climbing. My main concern at this stage is about belaying; I might slow down a bit as Amoureux and I reckon that there is a risk of being pulled into the wall if my heavier partner takes a big fall. Other than that, last doctor’s check up was good and from now on I take it one week at the time. The only thing I stopped doing is telling people that I am climbing while pregnant. I can definitely feel a level of certain judgment from non-climbers. It seems like everyone knows better than me about pregnancy and about climbing: I am too small, I don’t eat enough, I am big, I have “popped”, I will feel tired, I have to slow down, climbing is a dangerous sport… And it seems like the less sport they do the more they have to say!
Best links and book on climbing pregnant
Beth Rodden’s blog my number one reference when it comes to climbing pregnant: http://blog.bethrodden.com/
Useful interview with OB and climber Long Huynh: http://blog.bethrodden.com/2014/04/climbing-pregnant-interview-with-long.html
The Pregnant Athlete Book: for a different perspective on pregnancy from athletes. http://www.amazon.com/The-Pregnant-Athlete-Ever-Before-Pregnancy/dp/0738217263
Mountain Mama website for maternity outdoor clothing and gear: http://www.mountain-mama.com/