Image credit: Kerri Wallace
Opening disclaimer: this information does not override any medical advice you have been given. It should be used to help guide women do a sport they love but if by the end you are still unsure, always go with caution and avoid any risk.
Should I still climb when pregnant?
The general consensus from current available advice is - no. However there is some anecdotal evidence coming through the wood work, suggesting it’s okay for some women - but how do you know if it’s okay for you? We have consolidated what evidence there is available to help you answer that!
I have just started or want to start climbing
Honestly, it is inadvisable. Bouldering comes with a significant amount of risk, much of which is best learned through experience. Being able to know yourself as a boulderer and what you are able to achieve and avoid, is key to deciding whether you are safe to do this when pregnant. Without that experience and reasonable knowledge of your own capabilities, the risks increase.
I feel I have enough experience to continue climbing but I’m not 100% sure
Factors to consider when assessing appropriate climbs
Can you down climb? It is sensible to avoid routes which may lead to falls; controlled or otherwise.
Is this too challenging? Recognising suitable routes is a skill, even if the wall you attend gives you a grade of each route. Within grades there are different technical demands – knowing your strengths and being able to read a route before you have even tried it, is very important. This will ensure you won’t get stuck or ‘thrown off’ a climb, putting yourself and your child at any unnecessary risk.
Can I spot? At no point is it safe for you to spot another climber
Being able to quantify your risks is not just being able to manage the risk of bouldering, but you must also consider the changes your body is going through when you start to carry another being.
Relaxin: This is a hormone associated with pregnancy, and levels start increasing from very early stages of pregnancy with peaks of the hormone level being 14 week and delivery (Conrad 2011), but is still present at higher levels than normal throughout the pregnancy. Its role is to relax ligamentous tissue (soft tissue), in preparation for delivery. However can affect you throughout the pregnancy which can result in some women experiencing joint laxity and even joint pain and injury. When climbing, it can increase load through soft tissues of certain joints, so consider your finger, shoulder, hip and knee positioning and loading.
Fatigue: You are making another human! Throughout pregnancy you will experience levels of fatigue, some women worse than others. It is important to recognise this and tailor in rest time. Be respectful of your energy levels and make sure to snack! It is also important to note that when you’re pregnant your immune system runs slightly lower and is a little more sensitive, making you more prone to coughs and colds. So running your energy levels low may increase your risk of becoming unwell.
Dizziness and altered blood pressure: This can vary from person to person, but if you are suffering with any dizzy episodes or altered blood pressure, it is recommended to seek medical advice and then exercise as they advise.
Centre of gravity/balance and spatial awareness: While being pregnant you may notice your stomach starts to protrude. This will continue throughout the course of pregnancy and will likely alter your centre of gravity (the force keeping you to the ground). This may affect your balance when just standing still on the ground, so it can have a huge impact when you’re balancing on the wall.
Co-ordination: the joint laxity you are going through alongside a reduction in spatial awareness, will have a combined influence on your co-ordination. Going for a big dynamic move or dyno is dangerous and not recommended because if this goes wrong it can cause you and the baby injury. This goes for any impact, especially as you progress through the pregnancy.
Abdominal demand: As your stomach grows your abdominals (especially rectus abdominus) will start to separate. This process is normal and when it happens will vary for everyone. This means even getting off the sofa will start to become harder. Routes demanding a higher abdominal effort maybe become difficult and demand too much of your changing body. Routes to consider avoiding include: overhangs, routes with a challenging incline, toe/heel hooks, and sit starts.
Final trimester: I would not recommend climbing in the final stage. This is when you will be at your biggest, fatigue will be an issue, baby is growing, and your body is preparing for the imminent arrival.
I still want to climb and feel I am able to assess the risks appropriately
Great! Remember - this is your responsibility and your decision. Here’s a few guidance pointers to help:
Complete a comprehensive warm up - you should be doing this anyway!
Avoid stomach compressing positions (such as high knees, sit starts, topping out)
Choose routes well within your comfort zone. This is not the time to push your grade!
As you progress, reduce abdominal demand. No more over hangs, inverted walls, excessive heel or toe hooks!
Climb with a friend or few, who know your situation and are able to support you.
Consider traversing – great way to practice the fundamental skills and keeps you at a height that you can just step off if you need to.
Make your own routes up – draw in holds that work for you
Make training plans, such as aim to stay on the wall for two minutes and rest for two minutes – repeat
If you’re feeling tired, this isn’t the time to power through - stop!
Remember you’re not pregnant forever - it's temporary therefore these adjustments are temporary – so try to avoid being disheartened if you feel yourself getting frustrated.
If you have any reservations or queries, consult your GP or midwife. Remember, this information is advisory only. It is important to go with whatever formal medical advice you have been given.
Conrad KP (August 2011). "Maternal vasodilation in pregnancy: the emerging role of relaxin". Am. J. Physiol. Regul. Integr. Comp. Physiol. 301 (2): R267–75