When I found out I was pregnant I was crazy excited, even though I knew that pregnancy was going to be a long, tough process for my body. I vowed to myself that I would try my hardest to keep my life as normal as possible throughout my pregnancy and try to stay as active as possible. Being outdoors always improves my mood and exercise helps me sleep better, so I figured that hiking throughout pregnancy would be a no brainer. But almost everyone in my life told me to stop hiking as soon as I shared that I was pregnant. So what’s a hiker to do?
Can you really hike when you’re pregnant? The answer, of course, depends on what your doctor or midwife tells you about YOUR specific body and situation. When I found out I was pregnant I was in the best hiking shape of my life. I had climbed (most of) Kilimanjaro 5 months earlier, done multiple backpacking trips throughout Alaska, and had just completed the 52 Hike Challenge for the year. So one of my first questions to my midwife was, “Can I still hike and backpack?” The answer is going to be different for everyone, so before I say anything more about hiking while pregnant I want to encourage you to talk with your birth team to find out what is safest and healthiest for you and that baby on board. Luckily my midwife was a supporter of me keeping up my current activity levels as long as I felt comfortable, which sometimes changed daily throughout pregnancy. It’s important to remember that giving birth is basically a giant mountain summit, and hiking can keep you in shape for that long and physically demanding event!
As a pregnant woman, the thing that drove me crazy was people acting like I was a delicate, breakable person all of a sudden. Yes, I was growing and carrying a baby around, but I was still the same person who liked to hike and spend time outdoors. I wanted to be trusted to listen to my own body and do things that I still felt strong and capable enough to do. Here’s the thing: apart from the medical professionals/midwives who are familiar with you and your situation, NO ONE can tell you what you can or can’t do during your pregnancy. This was hard for my family and friends who meant well, but only I know how I feel and what I feel comfortable doing. There were days where I hiked 7 miles and felt awesome. There were days where I had plans to hike to a certain location and instead turned around early because I just wasn’t feeling up to it that day. There were days where I cancelled hiking plans and took a four hour nap. And there were days where my midwife told me to stay indoors and rest so that my body could keep growing my baby safely. I felt different daily, and being able to listen to my body was such a big part of my pregnant hiking experience.
The first 16ish weeks of pregnancy were rough for me. I learned that morning sickness is not limited to the mornings, and that trying to figure out which limited foods you can keep down is a rough process. I feel like I napped constantly. One day I felt like a switch had flipped, and I was able to take a short walk outside. After that, I made a slow and steady return to hiking in my second trimester! I felt good, had lots more energy, and found that the hikes helped my body and mind feel stronger. By the third trimester I was still able to hike, but the hikes got shorter as I got closer to my due date and my body started to feel a lot more pressure and pain while walking. My last hike was a slow and steady 4 miler a few days before 40 weeks, and I partially credit that hike to kickstarting my labor on my due date. There were good days and bad days, good hikes and bad hikes, and I had to stop comparing myself to others (non-pregnant people as well as other women who were pregnant) and just do what felt best for me.
Throughout those 9 months I learned a lot about hiking while pregnant, so here are the tips and tricks that worked for me:
Listen to your body. I can’t stress this one enough! Only you know how you feel and what you’re comfortable doing. If your body says take a nap, just take the nap. In the first trimester you aren’t just growing a baby, you’re also growing the placenta too! So realize that your body is already doing a ton of physical work that you can’t see, and respect all that hard work. Be prepared to take extra breaks or turn around early, and know that it’s totally okay if you have to do that.
Realize that this won’t last forever. I’ll admit that when you are struggling with something it’s really hard to see that it will in fact end someday. Pregnancy can sometimes feel like it will never end, especially if you are restricted from doing something you love. But you will get through pregnancy, and even if you have to slow down or stop doing a certain activity now you’ll be back at it soon!
Enjoy the little things. Maybe you can only walk to the end of your block and back. Or maybe you choose to drive to the park and sit on a bench for an hour instead of hiking out into the forest. Getting outside can be really helpful for morning sickness and constant exhaustion, so try to find a way to enjoy the things you love at the level that you can handle.
Scale it back. Maybe this is the time of year where you usually summit that one tough mountain or do that one long trail. And maybe you still can! But it’s okay to also choose to scale things back a bit this year. If your goal is to keep hiking throughout your pregnancy, your hikes might need to get slower, shorter, and/or flatter to feel comfortable for you. Do what works best for your body at this moment. Just because some other girl on Instagram summited a huge mountain at 38 weeks pregnant doesn’t mean you can/should do it too.
Bring lots of water and food. If you usually bring one ounce of water, consider bringing two ounces or more. Bring trail snacks that you know your body can handle during pregnancy (I normally love chicken jerky, but chicken made me sick during pregnancy so I had to find an alternative) and that are high in protein. It’s always a good idea to leave extra snacks and water in the car for after the hike, but it’s a really great idea when you’re pregnant!
Get comfortable peeing in the woods. Honestly, this is a skill that all hikers should have, but it’s really important when you’re pregnant and your bladder has a ton of pressure on it. You’ll be drinking extra water to stay hydrated, so even if you normally don’t need to pee mid-hike you might have to do it now. Remember that squatting is harder when your center of gravity is off!
Have a safety plan. If you’re anywhere close to giving birth, make sure you are somewhere that has cell service and medical services. I think going into labor in a remote location or a long hike would probably be terrifying and cause lots of stress. My midwife never stopped me from hiking or traveling late in my pregnancy, but she did ask that I tell her if I was going out of town so that she was aware of my location in case I went into labor. Remember that walking can help kickstart labor if your body was already close to going into labor!
Find your supporters. If you’ve got friends/family who are willing to slow it down, they are your new favorite hiking buddies! I often hiked with a friend and her three year old and found that pace to be perfect for me. You can also look into joining local hiking groups geared towards families or your local Hike It Baby branch to find other pregnant hikers or moms who can support you with hiking through pregnancy and beyond.
If you’re heading out on a hike, here’s a list of some pregnancy-friendly things you might want to bring along:
- Hiking poles for extra stability
- A water bladder hydration system (like a CamelBak) for easy water access
- Extra water
- Extra snacks
- A pregnancy support belt
- Comfy shoes to change into after the hike
- Layers (I was SO HOT throughout my whole pregnancy so I never wanted to be stuck wearing something too warm!)
All pregnancies are different, but hopefully this post will help you keep up with your hiking goals throughout pregnancy. No matter what, just remember that this is only temporary, and at the end of it you get a tiny hiking partner who will get to join you on hikes in the future!
Did you keep hiking throughout pregnancy? What other tips or tricks would you share?