After the BMC's This Girl Can Climb photo shoot we caught up with Emily to chat about her experience continuing to climb through her pregnancy.
I suppose a lack of knowledge about the sport meant I didn’t enter the climbing wall until I was in my late 20s, when a date took me there! I fell in love – with climbing – the guy didn’t last! The love affair blossomed as I realised that here was the sport I’d been missing all those years. To me, starting at the bottom and being a beginner again is so exciting and a huge motivation. I watched better climbers than me, of all shapes and sizes, being strong and climbing routes that seemed impossible and I was desperate to get there too.
Climbing gives me motivation every week to show myself that no matter what is going on in my life, my body and mind can work together to still achieve incredible things. Climbing is a balm for a crappy week; a catharsis for feeling weak and is the best pick me up I’ve ever known! It can be incredibly frustrating to struggle with a route, but the feeling of achievement if you’ve fought your way to the top of a cliff or managed a challenging boulder problem– for me, that joy is unbeatable.
'I fully intend to be a mum who climbs and use climbing as a way to get fit and active again post birth'.
I'm pregnant with my first child at the moment but I didn’t dream of stopping climbing altogether. I fully intend to be a mum who climbs and use climbing as a way to get fit and active again post birth. The question was more how long could I keep climbing for through pregnancy. I had seen a pregnant woman climbing at a climbing gym I go to, so I knew it was possible but I knew there would be challenges that make it more difficult to keep climbing both whilst pregnant, and with a young child.
Emily climbing Up the Spout in Rocklands, South Africa. Photo: Ian Trevitt
Knowing that pregnancy will affect everyone differently, I obviously had questions about how safe it was to climb whilst pregnant and what I should or shouldn’t be doing. Wanting to find out the answers to these questions I started to search for information and was shocked at the lack of information available. I believe there’s a huge need for more information about female climbing – not just in pregnancy but having children at a crag and climbing destinations that are child friendly.
I knew I would need a pregnancy harness at some point so I looked at how to find one. I only found one dedicated pregnancy harness, sold in America and costing a fortune so I’ve ended up wearing a full body harness from Petzl – certainly not designed for pregnant women but does the job.
I was conscious to make sure I was doing what felt right for me, I just top rope now, and as the month's progress I adapt my climbing week by week. I am currently climbing still just a grade below what I used to be able to climb but my stamina has certainly fallen significantly. Overhangs are almost out now I’m in my 6th month – unless they are very juggy! Reachy climbs are a no go as I can’t do explosive movements and any routes that involve twisting are also out! I led my last route at very safe grade 4 a few weeks ago when I was 5 months pregnant, but I’ve stopped leading now as the prospect of falling even a foot makes me really worried. I take routes much slower and more carefully these days. If I can’t reach a hold or I have a really high foot that my bump is preventing me from reaching, I simply use another hold on another route and I don’t sweat the small stuff.
Emily's top tips for climbing through pregnancy
Climbing through pregnancy might not be suitable for everyone, you shouldn’t push yourself to do anything that you’re unsure of and definitely speak to a medical professional before undertaking activity through pregnancy. Being active through pregnancy is generally recommended and seen as beneficial for both mother and child, but everyone’s experience differs and what suits me, may not suit everyone. For some you might prefer to take a break, undertake some other forms of exercise and get back into climbing after you’ve given birth, which is the next challenge I’m really looking forward to facing.
If you do decide to continue to climb, definitely invest in a full body harness sooner rather than later, I started wearing mine round about 15 weeks. Don’t take any unnecessary risks like bouldering high up or leading if you think you’ll fall, I stick to traversing and top roping! Listen to your body and don’t feel like you have to keep climbing at your top grade. Your body is working doubly hard already doing something amazing – climbing should just be for fun!
This Girl Can
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