We weren’t a mile into our hike midway up a steep, rocky incline when my chest started to tighten and I was short of breath. My heart was beating fast and I could feel a cold sweat coming on. I was with my kids, ages 8 and 3, and abruptly stopped and told them, “Guys, we have to go back. I don’t feel too good.” I was in my first trimester with my third and had terrible motion sickness (in fact, I had it the entire pregnancy). Luckily, the symptoms were similar to what I’d experienced when I was 13 weeks pregnant with my second at 15,700 feet in elevation on top of Pichincha (a stratovolcano) in Quito, Ecuador, and had to sit on the ground, take deep breaths and calm myself enough to walk the few steps to a bench.
My kids complained about cutting our hike short, but I knew I only had enough energy left to walk back down to the car. After that, I contemplated what had happened. I’d eaten before we left (and used the restroom!) and packed snacks for the trail. I didn’t try to go at a faster pace than my body would allow. But still, what went so terribly wrong? The answer was simple: pregnancy is unpredictable. No matter where you’re at, you need to be self-aware at all times and listen to your body.
Hiking when pregnant
Being pregnant doesn’t mean your time spent outdoors has to come to an end; keeping active during pregnancy is good for your and your baby’s health. Of course, your level of effort will have to adjust to accommodate each trimester, but with some extra preparation, you can continue enjoying your outdoor lifestyle while staying healthy.
To help you stay safe and comfortable on trail, we’ve gathered some helpful tips from Hike it Baby moms who were determined not to let pregnancy stop them from hitting the trails.
Packing food, supplies & the rest
Use the bathroom before you start your hike … like potty training toddler-style. Do a potty try because you know in ten minutes of hiking, you’ll have to go! – Elizabeth Ann, Holland, MI
Bring lots of water and snacks and amazing friends who don’t mind going at a slower pace with lots of breaks. I was 35 weeks and it was a 8-mile 1000 gain hike in this pic. – Deanna, South Kind County, WA
End on a good note. Sometimes that means keeping it short and sweet. You should always end before you feel tired so you don’t hit exhaustion while on the trail. A hip belt can help with pelvic stability, especially in 2nd+ pregnancies when everything is really loose. Eat a banana for electrolytes and potassium to prevent muscle cramps. A protein snack is also good to have in hand. Small packs of nuts, cheese or bars can easily be tucked into a pocket or pouch. Hide them everywhere so you’re never caught without. – Jessica, Portland, OR
Hiking poles are helpful when body changes start to impact your balance, especially if you are also babywearing an older sibling or the terrain is rocky or uneven. – Kathryn Clarke, Tucson, AZ
Definitely a support belt! – Brook, Cincinnati, OH
By 2nd trimester, maybe halfway through, any time I was on my feet for at least 15 minutes, I used a belly support band. It helped a TON with the lower back pain! I also drank a lot of water, took it slow and took breaks often and stretched. I used my trekking poles with any hike with elevation or rocky terrain during my 3rd trimester just to be sure my balance was good and help save my knees. And if I hiked at least a mile, I needed a nap that day. – Rita Diane
Listen to your body, go slow and just enjoy being outdoors. Some days you can go far and some days it might be 20 minutes. – Sarah, Albuquerque, NM
Setting realistic goals
It was really important to me to keep our normal routine of getting outside every day for my daughter’s sake. There were so many unknowns coming her way, but hiking could be her safe place of familiarity. Severe morning sickness and multiple times on modified bedrest made this challenging, but we made it work. We spent a lot of time in our back yard, did a lot more park and plays, and once I got too big to carry her comfortably, the stroller became our new best friend. The most important thing was listening to my body, going with the flow and reminding myself that spending time outside was what mattered. – Vanessa, San Diego, CA[During the 3rd trimester], back-carrying my 3-year-old was no longer comfortable, so I decided to switch to toddler-led and stroller hikes. We were still having fun outside so he didn’t mind, and I didn’t need a full day to recover like I did when I carried him. – Becca Hosley, Washington [In the first trimester] toward the middle/end, I stopped using a frame carrier because I wasn’t able to wear it in a way that was comfortable to my changing body. [During the second trimester], I got outside as much as possible! I had a very emotional pregnancy and I felt my best when I was in nature. [And in the third trimester], I just had to listen to my body. When I was feeling good, I might do a longer, harder hike. When I was feeling slow and tired, it would be a park and play or a splash in a stream. I was able to wear my 2-year-old throughout my pregnancy in a back-carry with the waist strap fastened over my baby bump. But the MOST important thing that you can do is listen to your body. – Melanie, Ringwood & Bergen County, NJ
It’s very okay to slow down if you feel like you don’t have the energy – even after the first trimester when you’re “supposed to” feel better. Some women find babywearing is uncomfortable or too draining during pregnancy and that’s okay too. In my early first trimester, I was babywearing, hiking and camping and doing slower versions of my usual activities. Then hyperemesis gravidarum set in and I was unable to leave the house much anymore. That lasted until 24 weeks. I couldn’t do much more than walk around the block, and I really couldn’t tolerate babywearing my toddler for more than a few minutes either. And that was fine. After my daughter was born, my recovery was much smoother than normal and we were back outside when she was a week old. – Nicole, Mountain Home, ID
Maintaining positive mental health
In the first trimester, give yourself lots of grace! It can be tempting to push yourself when you don’t look pregnant, you may be hiking with family or friends who don’t know the news yet, and just a few short weeks ago you had energy and stamina for days. But the fatigue and exhaustion are real and, for me at least, being overtired made the nausea way worse. So get outside and enjoy the fresh air, but there’s no shame in pacing yourself! – Melissa, Hampton Roads Branch
Unfortunately my 40-lb. son was way too much even for my second trimester. It felt like a huge failure and hiking backpedal. But it set me up for really making space in my life for #2 and setting boundaries with my son. Owning up to your limits is always good advice for hiking, I think. – Lani
I was overdue with my second and I wanted to have him naturally, so we hiked a lot! I was almost 42 weeks when we did 4 miles on the South Fork Trail in Eagle River, AK. It was so worth getting out of the house that pregnant and not sitting around waiting. We took lots of snacks, water and just took our time along the trail. There were a lot of breaks for me! – Juliana, Fairbanks, AK
I was 4 days overdue, and in a time when time is standing still, getting out and hiking was such a great feeling. Slow and steady. – Corie, Cleveland, OH
What other tips do you have for hiking when pregnant? Tell us in the comments below!
Photos courtesy of Deanna Curry, Elizabeth Goossen, Rebecca Hosley and Corie Reeves.