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Pregnant and Climbing

Author: Sarah Gorka

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We have a lot of mothers in our tribe who work hard to make sure outdoor adventure stays central to their lifestyle. Pregnancy often changes things – expecting mamas have maybe the most precious responsibility there is – taking care of themselves and baby. For some that might mean slowing down and staying off the trail until baby comes along.

For others, the outdoor lifestyle is even more important for their well being and health, even if they need to slow down a bit. But this story is unique. Sarah Gorka is a rock-climbing mama well into her second trimester and she’s still climbing. And doing it safely. This week Sarah shares her experience being a climber, mom and doing it all even while pregnant…

First off disclaimer: I am not an exceptional climber. I am not an athlete. I am a mediocre climber at best. However, I am completely in love with the sport. The gymnastic movement, the powerful strength and the way all my thoughts and worries melt away while I’m on the wall are why I love it.

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Climbing after kids:

Following my son Tytus’s arrival I dove back into climbing as quickly as possible. I was determined; I had a lot of strength to reclaim. I soon learned taking a break for nearly 9 months would make my return to climbing frustrating. I had the knowledge and technique, but I didn’t have strength to climb at the level I once did. I had to learn how to juggle being a mom and making time for myself to work hard to get back to the climbing level I once was at. Climbing is a sport where if you are not climbing regularly, you lose it.

Now that my son is a little over two, I feel strong and knowledgeable in my climbing. I am finally leading outside, and I boulder to build strength when I can’t find a climbing partner. I’ve got it figured out and I’ve found my groove. Cue baby number two! This time is different though. Pregnancy convinced me to stop climbing with my firstborn, but with the second I feel more confident to continue on.

Learning you’re expecting for the first time is a whirlwind of overwhelming advice and information. Everyone thinks they know what’s best for you. If you’re a climber, the standard advice is that it’s probably best to give it up. When you Google climbing while pregnant there’s very little information available. The only things I managed to find were some images of a handful of really impressive mamas sporting baby bumps in full body harnesses, and one pretty awesome article by Climbing Magazine.

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It’s my impression that research and data to back up the safety of climbing while pregnant is limited to nonexistent. It doesn’t appear to be a mainstream activity for the casual climber to continue sending into the late months of pregnancy. If you happen to live in a city where climbing is not a common sport, it is even less socially acceptable.

As a first time mother, with a very protective husband and little information and support to defend climbing, it was very easy to give up. I managed to climb through my first trimester, while taking it easy, but that was the end of it with my first pregnancy.

But not this time!

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Difference between first and second pregnancy, experiences with climbing past the 1ts trimester:

The first trimester of pregnancy with baby number one was a breeze. Morning sickness was pretty much nonexistent, and I was able to sleep whenever I wanted since I wasn’t chasing a toddler around. I took it easy climbing on the top ropes at the gym for those initial three months.

For baby number two I felt very sick and tired. I didn’t even want to climb the first trimester. But I was encouraged by moms I found blogging about climbing while pregnant, and I used the Climbing Magazine article I had found as my guide in where to draw lines in prenatal climbing.
I also had a new community of passionate and supportive woman who were stoked for me to continue climbing. They are encouraging and make climbing possible at times when it otherwise wouldn’t be.

As spring has come and the weather is turning warm and welcoming outdoors, I am in the second trimester and I have started climbing outside with friends. I even spent a weekend in Moab already, squeezing in a little climbing with good friends and little kiddos. Although it meant getting blasted with wind and sand, it was so much fun! It feels great to climb in the warm desert among the sunshine and red rocks. The climbing was comfortable and just challenging enough to make it fun and interesting.

As my belly outgrows my harness I am working to make plans to continue climbing, especially outside. This means acquiring a full body harness to accommodate my new physique. I would love to be boasting a full-term bump on the rocks outside this summer. However, I don’t assume I will continue to feel comfortable and confident while climbing through my entire pregnancy. I am following my intuition and only doing what feels comfortable to me.

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I plan to approach the remaining months with care and introspective consideration. I can’t help but be constantly aware of the baby growing inside me, even while having tons of fun doing what I love best. It is a constant balancing act, checking in and considering how I’m feeling and what is safe, while also challenging myself and having a good time.

It is worth it to me to continue, as long as I feel safe and comfortable in what I’m doing. By climbing I am able to be outdoors enjoying nature, while working on maintaining strength, stamina and flexibility.

Sport climbing is a low impact sport. I am able to climb hard enough to get a light cardio workout without worrying about wetting my pants (which is a concern during pregnancy as the bladder gets squeezed!). It’s also great for full body strength and flexibility. Continuing cardio, strengthening and flexibility exercises throughout a pregnancy keeps the mother’s body strong and prepared for labor, and it also helps strengthen baby.

I also get to socialize with friends and simply hang out when I’m out climbing. Although this point may not seem like a huge health benefit, I believe it is. Mental health through pregnancy is equally important to physical health. Some women experience antepartum depression, depression during their pregnancy. Cutting away time for self care and surrounding yourself with people who support and celebrate you is great for mental health. There aren’t many other activities that are comprised of all these things.

Climbing brings me joy and breathes life into me, providing me with a little boost to make it through my week. Climbing has benefits that outweigh the risks, especially if you are climbing toprope.

I’ve taken every precaution, keeping myself and my baby safe, every step of the way. As long I am thoughtful and safe in the decisions I make for myself, I believe it could be possible to climb through an entire pregnancy if my body and baby permit it. Climbing during pregnancy might not be the right choice for everyone, but it is for me. And my message is that if you love climbing, it’s healthy for you and baby and as long as it feels right you can stay perfectly safe and reap all the benefits!

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