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Injuries and Medical Advice

What to Expect When Expecting – Rock Climbing While Pregnant

“Can I still climb?” - Beth Rodden answers the first question many female climbers pose when expecting.

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This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 245 (October 2017).


When Randy and I first found out I was pregnant, we had a host of emotions: ecstasy, excitement and terror, as any first-time parents would have. As an athlete I was also afraid of what pregnancy would mean for my body. Most of my time and energy during my adult life had gone into training for peak fitness for climbing.

One of the first questions I posed to my OB-midwife was, “Can I still climb?”

As I settled into my new pregnant body, I learned to love having more purpose for it than just use and abuse in sport. I started to think of how to nourish my body instead of just how to use it, but I still wanted to climb.

I started blogging about climbing while pregnant mainly because I could find so little information on the topic. Within a day of publishing the blog I had heard from dozens of women around the world, including two doctors, all of whom had climbed or were climbing while pregnant. The doctors not only offered tangible medical advice, but also came up with the idea to conduct a survey, asking women a variety of pregnancy-related and climbing-specific questions. A total of 339 women responded and helped produce some really interesting and helpful results (see below) that I published on my blog in March 2016. Based on these results, my own experience and the experience of others, I believe that climbing can fit into both a healthy pregnancy and parenthood.

CLIMBING DURING PREGNANCY

The best advice my OB-midwife gave me was to listen to my body. Each woman and pregnancy are different, so please tell your provider what your objectives are and listen to his/her professional advice. Throughout my pregnancy I set personal climbing boundaries that suited me:

I stopped bouldering at around 10 weeks as I didn’t like falling.

I started wearing a full body harness at around five months, once I really started to “show.”

I stopped leading at around 12 weeks, and prior to this I only climbed easy routes and never felt I risked falling.

Joints loosen during pregnancy to prepare for childbirth, so I avoided hard and tweaky climbing that stressed my joints.

I also stopped doing abdominal exercises because of diastasis (the splitting of the abdominal muscles), which commonly occurs during pregnancy.

I climbed easy routes but stopped completely at six months as my body started to feel swollen and loose.

I did not “train” during pregnancy. I only performed Theraband shoulder exercises and took daily dog walks.

GETTING BACK TO CLIMBING POSTPARTUM

I assumed that, as an active person, I would bounce back easily postpartum, but instead I found myself with mastitis infections (from breastfeeding) and a prolapse of the bladder. This all reminded me to take it easy on my body during recovery. Each woman and family will be different, but here are some points from my experience of climbing postpartum and some things to be aware of:

At five months, when I felt ready, I started doing specific post-baby recovery exercises to help with my prolapse and diastasis and to regain core strength.

My joints remained loose until a year postpartum, so I avoided overhangs, cracks and pockets that overly stressed my shoulders and fingers.

I started hangboarding a year postpartum, once my joints felt tighter and my body felt ready. I started very slowly and built up over the next year.

Bouldering is an acommodating type of climbing for families: you are close to the ground if the kids need anything, you aren’t tethered to a rope, and it can be done in a group.

Find other families to climb with. That way the kids can play together, and the adults can help each other out. Bring helmets for the kids.

[ Survey results: 339 PREGNANT WOMEN REPORTED ]

20 weeks
when most started limiting their climbing.

31 weeks
when most stopped climbing.

6%
sustained injuries while climbing.

74%
observed a change in strength.

59%
experienced a change in their joints.

73%
experienced a change in their balance.

3.5 months
average time to return to climbing postpartum.

96%
breastfed and 7% saw a change in milk volume when they returned to climbing.

Beth Rodden has climbed for 20 years and established many routes, including the unrepeated Meltdown (5.14 R) in Yosemite.