Pregnant climber holding her belly

Climbing for Two – How to Survive Pesky Pregnancy Changes

Love rock climbing but just found out you’re pregnant? Generally speaking, you don’t have to give one up for the other. As long as your doctor gives you the green light, you can keep climbing.

Of course, there are safety precautions you must enact while pregnant, which I’ve discussed in another post. Namely, changing to a full-body harness to prevent pressure on your baby and following rather than leading, plus avoiding bouldering are the best ways to stay safe while still enjoying the sport.

But even when you do everything down to the letter for your baby’s safety as you climb while pregnant, there are those pesky pregnancy symptoms that can get in the way. Here’s how to deal with the ever-changing landscape of your pregnant body, while trying to enjoy climbing.

Physical Changes and How to Deal with Them

The physical changes every pregnant woman goes through are enough to drive you mad, whether you’re climbing or not and as each one of us is different, some things may be more difficult to overcome for you than they were for me, and vice versa. It is my hope though that this guide of the typical pregnancy symptoms can help you navigate through your pregnancy so you can continue to safely enjoy rock climbing as I did.

– Increased Fatigue

Fatigue is probably the most common pregnancy symptom. In fact, it’s likely one of the first ones you’ll feel (next to morning sickness) that will clue you into the fact that you’re pregnant. It tends to be the worst in the first trimester. You may even have climbed while pregnant in the early weeks and had no clue, perhaps mistaking it for the flu or a common cold.

When it comes to fatigue, the answer is definitely to get some rest. Prepare for your climb by getting enough sleep the day before. And once in the thick of it, take it easy. Don’t push yourself. If you feel worn out, take a break. Listen to what your body is telling you, and if you feel you’re stretching it, there’s no shame in taking that rest. Drinking lots of water also helps you with fatigue, whether you’re up on the rock or not.

– Morning Sickness

Something you should know about morning sickness – this can happen at any time of the day. Some of you will feel like me and just want to throw up but never actually spew. Others will be running for the can before things come up. It varies from pregnancy to pregnancy. You may have nausea during your first trimester but not so much on your second. Or vice versa. And you may puke at the most random times. Pregnancy is totally not as fun as rock climbing but it’s worth it.

Sometimes, your morning sickness will disappear just by being active. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but try having a short climb.

Another tip: make sure you eat and again, drink plenty of water. Quite often, an empty stomach can unleash the fury of nausea.

– Breathlessness

Early on in pregnancy, you’ll find yourself becoming winded over the simplest things. Things that would never have you missing a beat before pregnancy. Thank you, hormones! As you get bigger, you can blame that little one for crushing your organs and making it tighter for breathing.

When you feel like you’ve run out of breath, take it easy. Go slow when going uphill. If you can’t carry on a conversation, it’s time to take a rest. Keeping what you carry along to a minimum and staying low and slow is the way to enjoy your climb.

– Edema

Not every woman winds up losing her ankles somewhere. You’ll suddenly notice your legs and feet look like you’ve swapped them with Fred Flintstone’s. It’s not very comfortable, and should you be home when it happens, you can put your feet up to get some relief. But if you’re out on a climb, your climbing shoes are going to feel like pythons, squeezing the life out of you.

The best way to handle swollen feet when climbing is to use bigger shoes. Your feet may very well get back down to size after pregnancy, or they may not. Mine got longer and wider. If you’re not up for investing in new climbing shoes, you can try to borrow a pair, find used climbing shoes, or even use those trad shoes which will help a lot.

– Pelvic Pressure

Pelvic pressure is very common when your baby drops down; close to when you deliver. But during a climb, because of the hormones and all that added blood flow circulating to your nether-regions, it can feel like there’s a weight down there. Technically, there is, though instead of it feeling like a small 5 to 8-pound baby, it’ll feel more like one of those massive anvils from an old Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

Whenever you feel major discomfort, exhaustion, or breathlessness, it’s time for a rest. An ice pack placed strategically between your legs, will certainly help quell the painful sensations.

– Abdominal Tissue Tears

Known as diastasis recti, this condition happens when the tissue between your abs splits, leaving you with a gap. Most women don’t notice this until after they’ve had their baby and are trying to get back into shape. To us climbers though, it’s a lot more noticeable because we’re constantly relying on our core strength to pull us through.

The answer to this is far more complex, I’m afraid. For if you continue to work your abdominals, you’ll worsen the gap. You have to let it heal first. You can prevent it altogether by wearing an ab binder, or if it’s occurred, it’ll help prevent that scar tissue from building up.

This is why it’s important to take it easy on your climbs while you’re pregnant. A great way to keep enjoying the sport is to stay on slightly overhanging vertical terrain or to keep things under your limits. It’s not the time to be competitive. Pushing yourself could lead to months of recovery for your abs post-partum, something you don’t want.

– Pelvic Joint Dysfunction

Just like a tear in your abs, you need this one like another hole in your head. Because your joints are looser while you’re pregnant and your body is  relaxing (the hormone your body releases during pregnancy to prime those joints to flex and make way for your baby), you can find yourself in a world of hurt with back, hip, and groin pain if you don’t take care of it.

For pregnant climbers, it is imperative you do those Kegel exercises your OB/GYN probably recommended at the beginning of your pregnancy. They can help keep the area strong, plus it helps you with childbirth. Unfortunately, though, this is no guarantee you’ll prevent pelvic instability. The key is taking it easy and being honest with yourself. If something hurts when you move, stop and rest, then avoid making the movements that caused you pain.

– Loose Joints

As I said, that relaxing is kicking in, but it’s loosening all the joints and ligaments in your body, not just the ones you’ll need when push comes to shove. This means you are much more vulnerable to pulling something. Keep it simple and smooth. Watch yourself when cranking hard on those little holds, with hard gastons, and drop-knees. It’s why sticking to a route you know is a better bet for a safe climb during your pregnancy.

– False Labor

Known as Braxton Hicks, this usually happens in the third trimester. It can happen anywhere too. My best friend was so sure she was in labor, so she rushed to the hospital only to be told it was a false alarm. Good thing she wasn’t climbing!

At home, you can easily time your contractions. If things are getting worse and steadily predictable, like every 10 minutes, then every 5 minutes, the show is getting started. But if it goes away with movement, it’s definitely false labor.

You can’t do anything to stop it, though staying hydrated is the way to keep them at bay and to prevent from going into preterm labor, whether you’re on the climb or on your couch. If you’re out at the crag and you start feeling them, make sure you rest. Don’t try to push through it.

Handling Mental Changes

One of the hardest things to conquer is your mentality while you’re pregnant. Even when your OB/GYN says to go for the climb, you’ll have plenty of people giving you negativity. On top of that, you’re going to have those hormones to contend with. You could be fit as a fiddle and only look pregnant from your bump, but you’ll feel like Jabba the Hut. You’ll be happy one minute and in tears the next. It’s truly maddening.
You may feel like you can’t do it, and while it’s true that there are certain things you really shouldn’t be trying out on the crag when you’re pregnant, there is still so much you can do to enjoy the sport. Don’t let your mind tell you that you can’t do it; however, do listen to how your body responds. Take it slow and easy, stay low, and shorten your climb time.

– Finding Motivation

The further along you get, the harder it is to find your motivation. It’s also disappointing to curb your numbers for the sake of pregnancy, but you need to change the way you see things. Again, this isn’t the time to break your last personal best. It’s time to enjoy what being up on the rock is really about. That beautiful freedom and the stunning view are reason enough to keep going.

But if your body constantly needs rest and you feel it becoming too tough, just listen. If you feel like the crag is too difficult, try the climbing wall at the gym where you can more easily get down and keep things simple if you need to bail quickly. It will at the very least give you a taste of climbing until you can go back in full speed ahead.

– Fighting the Urge to Give Up

When mental and physical fatigue combine, you may want to throw in the towel. I recommend you give it a try though. You should be looking at it from a positive angle. You’re still doing something so incredible, AND you’re creating another life form. That’s just wonderful.

Your body is going through so many changes to help you bring this tiny human into the world. You don’t have to climb every day nor do you have to get outdoors to do it. Try to keep things simple and have fun, during your pregnancy instead of being overwhelmed by the limitations you now have as a mom-to-be. Soon, you’ll be back to climbing for one, and you’ll be able to reach the new heights you desire.


The changes in your hormones and how your body prepares for giving birth are absolutely amazing, though they can leave you feeling less than stellar. If you want to climb and your doctor approves it, go for it but don’t push your limits. Always eat right, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep the night before you climb. Take plenty of breaks and be in tune with what your body says.

Just like when you randomly want to eat a can of anchovies, there’s something your body is telling you it needs, so pay attention. Take your climbs in stride and know that you’ll be back to pushing new extremes once you’ve gone through the ultimate endurance test – becoming a mom!


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