Oh, baby: finding out I was pregnant was a life-changing, wonderful moment. But as well as excitement over having a little one on the way, I definitely felt fear that having a growing bump would stop me getting outdoors, travelling and doing the sports and activities I love. I went looking for advice on how to stay active and quickly found that there wasn’t much online to help pregnant women navigate the sometimes quite scary world of staying fit and well before birth – there are a lot of rules and dos and don’ts out there, but not much to encourage you to get outdoors confidently. It’s hard to even find photos of women with bumps happily hiking, camping or wild swimming – and I was determined that I would work out how to safely enjoy nature right up until my daughter was born.
The main thing I took away from being pregnant? You know your body best. I read up on what sport and activities are considered safe in pregnancy, I asked my doctor and midwife for advice and then I just got on with fitness and travel for nine months. I kept well within my comfort zone, avoided impact sports and listened to my own body.
I’ve had lots of questions about how to navigate the world of adventure with both a bump and a baby – these two blog posts are my own personal experience, but none of the below is meant as advice to other women. I’m also very aware that every pregnancy is different. I had a straightforward one – and even then, I felt exhausted and queasy for a lot of the first trimester. After 12 weeks, it was like a switch was flicked and I felt immeasurably better and had more energy for exercise. Sport was actually a huge help while I was pregnant, making me feel strong and balanced as I learned to get about with a bigger bump and helping me sleep at night (pregnancy insomnia is not fun). Here’s how being happy, healthy and preggo looked for me.
ADVENTURE AND STAYING ACTIVE DURING PREGNANCY
I kept running until I was eight months pregnant and loved every second of it. I was a runner before I got pregnant, so my doctor advised me that I was safe to continue. I ran shorter distances when I felt like it, and avoided the hottest weather, but that was it – most of the time I ran my usual 10k route. I got a few odd looks from hikers when I padded past with a big bump, but I really didn’t care. Some women run right up until birth – I only stopped at eight months when sciatica hit me like a ton of bricks. Besides running, I did a lot of yoga, which was brilliant for helping with keeping flexible and balanced as my body got bigger and more unwieldy. I also went hiking as much as ever, including multi-day hikes and long-distance wilderness treks – I just made sure I felt happy and confident tackling those routes.
This is where you’re more limited in pregnancy – it’s best to avoid taking up any new sports and doing any ‘impact’ sports or anything where you could be injured, or fall. I made my own call on a case-by-case basis here – I stopped climbing and playing football because that felt safest for me, but many women safely continue with both sports. Lots of pregnant people also carry on cycling – I stopped road cycling simply because I didn’t trust car drivers! I also stopped horse riding (ironically, the one sport I have a lifetime of experience with) because animals felt like that extra risk factor beyond my control. I did carrying on skiing, staying well within my limits and sticking to pistes I felt confident on, and surfing, riding on tiny waves (which to be honest as all I can manage anyway!) and taking my big buoyant longboard out. You wouldn’t think saunas are an extreme sport, but in the UK they aren’t considered safe for pregnant women. However, many Scandinavian mothers keep using saunas for short periods – I personally decided to go with this approach.
Swimming was my absolute favourite way to exercise throughout my pregnancy. When I finally had to stop running and hiking, swimming was a weightless and painless way to exercise, and felt great for my mental health. I swam laps in my local pool but also kept wild swimming right up until I had my baby (I swam a very slow kilometre in our local outdoor swimming lake when I was a week overdue) – it felt amazing for my body and my mind, and also helped cool me down during the summer heatwave. If you’re swimming outdoors with a bump, I’d recommend bringing a friend as a safety buddy, wearing a wetsuit for added buoyancy and making sure you don’t go jumping in to cold winter water for the very first time.
While pregnant I carried on working as a writer and travelled around the world. I avoided countries where zika virus is present (it’s surprisingly many, so make sure you check before you book your babymoon) but otherwise I flew right up to when I was allowed to (again, check your airline, but most won’t allow you to fly after eight months). I did get asked by airport staff for my due date a few times, but I’d made sure I knew my rights and also had a doctor’s note confirming my due date in case anyone was difficult at the gate. I had zero issues travelling and would massively recommend going exploring now, while you don’t have a little one in tow. Go on a babymoon, go on a friend moon – I went glamping with mates and one of my favourite trips was to Greece with one of my besties, where everyone is absolutely lovely to you if you have a bump! I also went camping as much as ever – in the last few months of pregnancy I swapped my small camping mat for a big inflatable mattress and brought proper pillows to help with sleep with a bump.
Outdoorsy brands don’t seem to think pregnant women are out getting active – there isn’t much good maternity clothing out there that’s actually ready to deal with the elements. Berghaus is an exception – their new maternity range is really well-designed and weatherproof. Other than that, I found simply sizing up in leggings and waterproofs, picking men’s clothing or borrowing my husband’s kit worked fine. My wetsuits fit for most of my pregnancy, and in summer I popped an oversized rash vest over my swimsuit. I also bought a few pairs of XXL hiking shorts that fit over my bump and basically lived in them all summer.
SHARING THE BUMP
Speaking of bumps – I didn’t show off my growing body on social media until I was six months pregnant. Being pregnant can feel scary as well as exciting – it’s a time when you feel like you should be happy and confident but you’re also having lots of growth scans, probably feeling unwell, deciding when you should be letting friends and family know you’re expecting and learning all about birth and a new baby. I also worried about my work – I knew I’d be offered less commissions if I was visibly pregnant (sad but true – one tourist board saw photos of my baby scan displayed on the fridge behind me during a Zoom chat about a new project and immediately found an excuse to cancel working with me). I also went to a few work events where there was (well-meant) concern over whether I should be camping, or kayaking – surely this is totally up to the woman? There still seems to be this idea that pregnant women should be wrapped in cotton wool and kept indoors, which I sincerely hope will be changed for the better with every woman who is brave and gets out and about with their growing baby.