Climbing When Pregnant - A Personal Experience

© Heike Collection
UKC User Heike has recently had quite an adventure... Was it a big sea cliff? A mixed route on the Ben? Multi Pitch Sport? Well... not quite... She's had a baby! (Congratulations from the UKC Team!).

Not only has she given birth to a new belayer, Heike has also penned an article sharing her experiences of climbing while pregnant. So if you were wondering what it feels like to climb with a bump - read on.

The author making the most of early season conditions on Beinn Eighe @ 8 weeks  © Heike Collection
The author making the most of early season conditions on Beinn Eighe @ 8 weeks
© Heike Collection

Sport climbing in Thailand @ 12 weeks  © Heike Collection
Sport climbing in Thailand @ 12 weeks
© Heike Collection
Regulars on the UKC forums will know that some of the same subjects crop up time and time again. What's the grade of TPS (E0 obviously), can anyone recommend a good wet weather route in the Lakes (Corvus anyone?), is there any good climbing in Scotland (no, stay South of the border). But for half of the population there is another subject of interest... 'Can I climb when pregnant?' 

Having just been through this I thought I would share my experiences. I'm not a doctor and there is no medical science here, it's just my opinions and feelings. Remember that everyone will have a difference experience, but the one thing that will be constant is that you want the best for you and your child. So do your research, listen to opinions (medical and otherwise) and make your own decisions. 

I found out I was pregnant in early November. I was obviously very excited, but at the same time it was tinged with a little bit of sadness as climbing is my life. Would I still be able to climb? Would I feel so awful that I couldn't climb? Will I still be able to get out after my baby was born? 

The first step was to give up the booze without any of the regulars getting suspicious. Fortunately my husband and long-term regular climbing partner also gave up the booze under the cover of a diet plan for the Christmas Thailand trip, so that wasn't an issue. I was lucky in that I never suffered from morning sickness at any stage, so initially there wasn't much difference, although I did feel more tired then usual. Early season winter conditions in Torridon allowed me to climb one of my dream routes - Central Buttress on Beinn Eighe - at 8 week. A good start to the winter allowed me to pick a few more classic ticks such as North Buttress on the Buchaille or Stirling Bomber. 

We went to Thailand for Christmas and Hogmanay with some friends. On the first night at dinner I made the announcement that I was pregnant. Everyone assumed it was a joke! Leading up to the trip I was worried that I would be at that horrible stage where no-one knows whether you are pregnant or just podgy, but as it turned out, I wasn't really showing. And whilst there may be a few strutting Adonis types on Tonsai beach, fortunately they are outnumbered by the more normal physiques. 

Making the most of the brief Scottish summer, climbing on Carn Gorag @ 32 weeks  © Heike Collection
Making the most of the brief Scottish summer, climbing on Carn Gorag @ 32 weeks
© Heike Collection
During the trip I continued to lead as many routes as normal. The key worry was that I would fall and hit my tummy so I just made sure I wasn't going to take a huge whipper on the lead. I dropped my grade a little, and my climbing partners preplaced the runners, with extensions at longer run-outs. This worked well and I had a full trip's worth of climbing. By this stage I was feeling a bit less confident and there were a few emotional rollercoaster moments, but generally the climbing was still fine. 

By the end of January the bump was bursting out. This made mixed winter routes a bit harder as you are forced outwards by the bump. Funnily enough, a bit of extra weight and bump doesn't seem to have much detrimental effect in ice climbing, so no excuses for those with a fuller figure in future, please! I also couldn't do up my overtrousers completely but with full length zips I managed to just leave the top inch undone and everything was fine. And bending over to do up gaiters was getting harder. By now the heavy sack was becoming an issue so my husband would carry all the gear, leaving me to just lug my personal stuff up the hill. I also eased off a little on the leading front - as ever in winter climbing as in pregnancy, the rule was that I mustn't fall. We had a great week in La Grave climbing every day and I was still leading up to WI4+. On the last day it snowed loads so we were forced to go skiing as the avalanche hazard was too high to climb. This was far scarier as I felt that at any moment I could fall heavily or somebody could ski into me and injure junior. It might also show that it's easier to carry on with the activities you are really familiar with then doing something you only do occasionally. 

I continued to climb every weekend throughout the winter when conditions allowed. The biggest issue was always the walk-ins. I have always been a fast walker and it was depressing to be huffing and puffing on just the walk-in to the Northern Corries or up to the CIC. The final weekend of the winter was an epic struggle through knee-deep powder in to Beinn a Bhuird for the obvious target - another top tick. Sadly it wasn't to be this time as we were defeated by horrific winds and spindrift avalanches at the base of the route. That was a low moment as it felt like the last chance for my husband and I to winter climb together was gone and I have to admit to shedding a few tears as I stood in the corrie peering at the route through curtains of spindrift.

A brief rest from climbing on Carn Gorag @ 32 weeks  © Heike Collection
A brief rest from climbing on Carn Gorag @ 32 weeks
© Heike Collection

Muuuum, climbing is so tiring!  © Heike Collection
Muuuum, climbing is so tiring!
© Heike Collection
At Easter we hit the South of France for a final sun rock trip. By now the bump was so large that the harness no longer fitted. I invested in a Petzl full body harness instead and carried on as normal. I continued to lead as much as ever but dropped the grade as the bump got larger and made rock-overs, high-steps and overhangs more awkward. Longer walk-ins like into the depths of the Verdon gorge continued to be hard work, but the hardest part of the trip was watching my husband getting stuck into the red wine, and not being allowed the soft cheeses. 

I continued to climb right up until ten days before the birth (straight up routes only - bouldering had been abandoned as soon as I got pregnant). In the final few weeks I led less than normal and dropped the grade right down, but I continued to second to not far off my normal grade, with a nice safe rope from above. My last route before the birth was the lifetime ambition of Shibboleth which had so far eluded me. The walk-in up Ravens Gully was an epic, the route was brilliant, and for the descent down North Buttress I was short roped as I couldn't bend over or look down much.  

And then young BJ was born, but there is loads of literature out on that. I would like to report however that whoever said childbirth was like the hot-aches had clearly never given birth. 

Since then it's been the usual sleepless nights and baby chaos, but I have continued to climb. In his first 6 weeks BJ has been to 7 different crags. It's hard work though as you either need to get him to sleep, or climb with a 3rd person so one of us can look after him. And the amount of stuff you need to carry to the crag resembles the luggage of a Himalayan siege-style expedition! I'm not back to anywhere near my normal grades as I'm drained by so little sleep and the continuous breastfeeding, and my core muscles have turned into jelly, but I'm working on that. 

So that's my story. I was lucky as I was able to climb right through pregnancy whilst friends have been bedridden with months of morning sickness, or had to give up all sport as their ligaments went very soft. Young BJ doesn't seem to have been affected by climbing in the womb, and he is already throwing some gastons in his pram. 

Start them young I say. But that's one for the "pushy parents" thread... 

Important gear list for the pregnant climber:

  • 1 full-body harness
  • 1-2 supportive climbing partners (sherpas)
  • 1 very stretchy climbing top
  • Pack of tissues for emotional moments

A last hillwalk before birth – midsummer on the Cobbler  © Heike Collection
A last hillwalk before birth – midsummer on the Cobbler
© Heike Collection

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4 Sep, 2009
Congrats again! And great article and pics.
4 Sep, 2009
Indeed, great article! (And one to point the man who always turns up on the "climbing while pregnant" threads to say that it is far too dangerous and you must stop at once at.) I love the "climbing is so tiring" picture.
4 Sep, 2009
Oh, and congratulations!
4 Sep, 2009
great article and congratulations! Oh and fantastic pics.... specially the cute one with baby at the crag!
4 Sep, 2009
I would be interested in how you justified the risk to your unborn child, i remember the articles at the time of Alsion Hargreaves climbing and the attitudes taken to her as a mother and her responsibilities.
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