Pulling Down While Pregnant

Techniques for climbing moms-to-be

Do's and don'ts

Deciphering what you can and can’t do on the rock when you’re pregnant is no easy task. Few scientific studies even mention rock climbing and pregnant women in the same analysis. But there are plenty of opinions in the cyber-world: Pictures of ladies climbing with baby bumps typically inspire and infuriate in equal measure. Individual women should talk to their doctors about what’s best for them, but since few doctors understand climbing, we sought general advice from Long Huynh, an ob/gyn doctor and climber practicing in Boulder County, Colorado.

Elevation: Heading to moderate altitudes is safe as long as you're used to high elevations. But for women who live at or near sea level, traveling to significantly higher altitudes isn't recommended.

Hydration: All that extra blood volume pumping through your veins makes it especially important to stay hydrated during your entire pregnancy.

Full-body harness: Once your baby bump develops in the second trimester, switch to a full-body harness, which crosses below your belly, like a seatbelt, instead of across your waist.

First Trimester

Fatigue: Exercise can be good for you and your baby. Keep climbing when pregnant—assuming you feel like it. Many women experience crushing fatigue (your body is increasing its blood volume by half or more), not to mention morning sickness.

Balance: During the first trimester, your center of gravity probably won’t change, allowing you to keep climbing without adjusting your technique.

Trauma: Your fetus is well protected in the first trimester, but a big fall could still cause a miscarriage. Many women choose to keep leading, but select your routes carefully to avoid serious falls.

Second Trimester

Fatigue: Many women feel a resurgence of energy in the second trimester, which could make climbing (and approach hikes) seem more fun again.

Balance: Most women get a baby bump by their fourth or fifth month of pregnancy, which begins to throw off their balance. Be cautious on even the most familiar climbs.

Trauma: The shearing forces from taking or catching a big fall could rip the developing placenta from the wall of the uterus. Most women stop leading, or lead way below their pre-pregnancy limit.

Third Trimester

Fatigue: Fatigue often creeps back in, because you’re lugging an extra 25 to 30 pounds up the wall. If you choose to keep climbing, reduce the difficulty.

Balance: Your center of gravity will shift significantly forward, away from the spine. As you climb, you'll need to work to find new positions of balance instead of relying on the instincts you've built up over the years.

Trauma: The time for leading has passed. Feel free to keep toproping with your full-body harness, but dial back the grade and type of climbing. Embrace the slab; eschew the overhang.




Previous Comments

Read Rebecca's comment above and take note. This article also doesn't mention that during pregnancy, particulalry in the last trimester, your ligaments loosen due to circulating hormones. Your pelvis is at risk, along with all of the other regiuons of your body (think upper limb ligaments / tendons for climbers). Also you have more circulating blood volume and excess fluid, making you more suceptible to injuries such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

PT - 09/03/2014 6:20:09

Thanks alot! I sure am in need for advices such as above. Im a climbing instructor and married to a doctor but felt complitly clueless about my pragnency.. Still trying to define the limits as the weeks pass. Im on my 20 week and wondering about belaying leading.. When is it not safe to take a leaders dynamic fall. My belly is still not so much out so im still using a regular harness.. Any advices there..?

Nitzan - 06/07/2014 8:14:45

Thank you, this is a really helpful and informative article.

AP - 01/08/2014 3:27:36

I climbed past my due date, only on top ropes after the first trimester. Climbed fairly hard up to end of first trimester then went down a lot of grades for the last trimester. Like many women my stomach muscles separated at 27 weeks so I had to make sure any moves I did did not make my stomach dome. I was lucky I could climb, I would say listen to your body and don't be too ambitious, if you are worried see a good physio to check you are not going to damage your joints etc. I saw one to check about stomach muscles and joints, got the all clear.

M - 10/22/2013 4:19:58

Thanks for this comment, Rebecca! My SI joint already hurts (at 5 months) and I was thinking about trying to keep climbing. I think I'll just wait, and try to hit it once the baby is here!

Sarah - 07/29/2013 11:11:13

I am a manager/h.a.r.t. at a Zip Line Park, I was approached yesterday by a lady asking about Zip Lining and if it is safe for someone that is 15 weeks pregnant, we only have Sit Harnesses. I honestly did not know how to answer the question. One thing that I was guarded about was Liability by giving the wrong advice. What do you suggest?

Stuart MacDonald - 06/30/2013 4:04:51

I consider myself a serious climber and did my best to keep climbing while pregnant. I wish I could say I was successful. At about 22 weeks (5 months), I seriously injured my sacroiliac (SI) joint - the joint in the low back between the pelvis and the sacrum. Because you eventually have to let the baby out, the SI joint is more pliable during pregnancy. This is one of the main reasons yoga teachers will discourage you from twisting. Climbing involves a significant amount of twisting, as well (particularly on overhangs), so climbing can lead to SI joint dysfunction (which is not fun!), as it did for me. I read a lot about climbing while pregnant, and I didn't see any websites that warn of this (though in retrospect it should be obvious). I like to think that I would have heeded a warning (though, I'm a climber, and, like most climbers, apt to ignore all advice against climbing). So, I'm doing my best to get the word out that if you have any signs of pelvic instability (loose joints in general, pain while twisting, recent injury to the hip area, or anything else that might give you pause), it it worth questioning whether you should climb. With this recent injury, my goals have changed from staying fit while pregnant and climbing throughout pregnancy to the much more humble goal of keeping my musculoscelatal system intact, so I have some hope of resuming my former strength and fitness after I give birth... Maybe others can make better informed decisions than I did...

Rebecca Lambert - 02/16/2013 4:09:22