Yes, you can climb big hills, but unless you’re very well accustomed to strenuous physical activity in your pre-pregnant life, AND you have spent a whole lot of time at high altitudes, we’d suggest that you stay away from the high peaks and challenging conditions for the sake of your baby. Keep exercising for sure, but make it an activity that won’t potentially kill you (both). And boy, do we have some great ideas to maintain your climbing lifestyle while pregnant!
Don’t the Benefits of Exercise Outweigh the Risks of Climbing if I’m Careful?
Well, that’s actually a fair question. I know that what seems dangerous to some, is actually quite easy and safe for others. Exercise IS very important. Here’s a quote from the American Pregnancy Association regarding exercise:
“Exercise during pregnancy helps to alleviate many of the common problems of pregnancy. It improves circulation, which helps prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, leg cramps, and swelling of the ankles. It also prevents back pain by strengthening the muscles that support the back. Avoid such activities as downhill skiing, horseback riding, mountain climbing, and contact sports (like soccer or football) that could put you at risk for an injury or fall. As your pregnancy progresses, your center of balance shifts, making falls more likely.”
Yup, you read that part right about “mountain climbing”. Hey, I’m just sayin’. Don’t shoot the messenger! If you’re a die-hard climber and you insist on climbing hardcore snowy mountains, here’s another quote from a pretty well-known authority on things – the CDC (Centers for Disease Control):
“Pregnant women should avoid activities at high altitude unless trained for and accustomed to such activities. Women unaccustomed to high altitudes may experience exaggerated breathlessness and palpitations….. No studies or case reports show harm to a fetus if the mother travels briefly to high altitudes during pregnancy. However, it may be prudent to recommend that pregnant women not stay at sleeping altitudes >12,000 ft (3,658 m) if possible.”
The CDC goes on to state that among other reasons, one of the factors for their recommendation to stay below that altitude is that typically, there are no emergency services available in areas of that elevation, and should you experience any physical issues during a climb or high altitude hike, you would not be quickly accessible by paramedics or emergency medical practitioners.
I have been pregnant 5 times in my life and my mother’s instinct told me to play it safe while I still carried another life in my uterus. It really seems obvious to me anyway, that whenever there is a controversy or question about a certain activity in a very specific situation for a specific time, we should probably take the safer route for the greater good.
Do Specific Altitude Elevations Matter that Much?
Oxygen levels in the air/atmosphere drop as the elevation increases. That’s why high altitude “Peak Baggers” or Alpinists will often carry oxygen with them. In fact, if you get the chance to peak Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, you’ll probably see bottles of oxygen littered everywhere. Its peak is at 19,340 feet above sea level, and oxygen levels get noticeably (and potentially dangerously) lower above 12,000 feet.
I have a friend who lives in Colorado who not only hikes but actually climbs alpine terrain above 13,000 feet. The CDC recommendation to remain below 12,000 feet for the sake of maintaining safe oxygen levels for your and your baby, is an easy thing to do. However, it’s just as true that if you live closer to sea level, then going up even 5,000 – 6,000 feet can leave you breathless. Your body is not conditioned to extracting that low level of oxygen from the air you breathe. In that case, I would recommend staying even lower and ignoring the CDC recommendation of “under 12,000 feet.” That’s just too high for you and your baby to be unquestionably “safe”. Here’s an entertaining and eye-opening article that highlights the importance of oxygen at high altitudes!
I’m Doin’ it Anyway!
Just because you read an article online, that doesn’t mean you’ll do what it says right? Hey, I get it. You have the choice to do as you please. If you think you have such a strong compulsion to head to the mountain, and you think you can do it with a high degree of safety, here are a few points you MUST consider;
- Stay Super Hydrated at all times during your ascent
- Get someone else to carry your pack – you won’t make it if you’re in thin oxygen AND struggling for breath
- Find the best outfit you can (which may be a man’s set of alpine pants) since yours might not fit comfortably around the bump
- Bring a Cell or Satelite Phone
- Move at a pace that allows you to carry on a normal conversation (yes, talk to someone or use your voice like you are talking to someone). If you’re breathing too hard to talk normally, you’re straining way too hard
- This one’s super-obvious, but here it is anyway – NEVER go alone! You need at least one other person to stay near you and be ready for any potential emergency situations.
What Other Options Do I Have?
Alright, so this is totally up my alley! When I was pregnant, I decided to “stay down low”. There are some excellent (or at least “pretty good”) options that’ll help you get your “adventure fix”. Here’s a short list of options which you can probably figure out yourself, but why bother? I’ve done the work.
- Indoor Rock Climbing (practice extra caution and do it with a belayer)
- Good old, plain low altitude trail HIKING! Remember that?
- Use a climbing machine (as a climber you either already have one, or you should probably get one for training and for situations just like this!)
So What’s the Bottom Line Then? (go ahead, I think I can take it!)
It’s my strongly held opinion that my baby and its well-being are far more important than my own desires and impulses to do “things” (like eat horrible junk food, practice my beloved sport of kickboxing, or yes, climb alpine slopes to reach yet another summit). Remember, once there’s a bump, it’s not about “you” anymore. Priorities change and while you still need to meet your own “needs” as necessary, your “wants” start to take a back seat. That’s TOTALLY true once the baby arrives, but it really starts during pregnancy. I’d suggest that you continue to exercise doing any number of countless workout options for pregnant moms, and perhaps even more importantly, you need to practice patience and temperance (from your passion of peaking!).
Hey, that’s a short collection of my thoughts on mountain climbing while pregnant. My information comes from research on the CDC and the American Pregnancy Association websites, and a lot of my own experience as an “outdoor girl” who loves hiking at low altitudes in both summer and winter …. who has also been pregnant quite a bit!
If you have any ideas or thoughts you think might be good to consider on this topic, I’m all ears (eyes actually). Please comment below.
About the Author:
As a mother of 3 and a lover of all things outdoors and natural, I spend a good deal of my time thinking about, planning for, and then actually hiking and climbing! I live in a farmhouse not far from Buffalo, NY with my family, and I’m always ready to help anyone who cares to hear me, with advice regarding pregnancy and maternity issues and how it all relates to a variety of exercises and activities.
This article and any associated instructions or videos and any other articles or videos on TheClimbersEdge.com are meant only as a supplement to your learning process. The information on this site is not meant to take the place of qualified professional instruction. It is your responsibility to prepare yourself for all climbing related activities before you begin climbing.