“Make sure you don’t lift heavy things. And don’t bend over to pick anything up.”
This advice from my husband’s grandmother didn’t seem very practical. But I was a first-time mom pregnant with twins and I wanted her to at least know that I appreciated her concern. Less than 30 seconds after the counsel left her lips, I dropped my keys. We both looked down and a sly grin slowly spread across her face as a silent dare. Of course, I picked my keys up. But the timing in this moment couldn’t have been more perfect.
Many of us find ourselves confused about what is physically safe when pregnant. And it doesn’t help to be overcast with advice from everyone who knows exactly what you should do. But experiences and struggles of pregnancy vary from mom to mom, and many factors contribute to what is recommended physically. If you are used to moving about and find hiking as a great athletic outlet, how does that change when you become pregnant? Is it safe to take these long walks in the sun over various terrains, and how do these conditions affect the body differently when you're growing a baby?
“For women who are used to being active and hiking as exercise, they can continue to hike but will need to make some adjustments to their routine,” advises Patricia Ladis a physical therapist who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum.
She and other experts weigh in, and they don’t stop at whether or not hiking is OK. They also share some of the safest ways to hike, from the best clothing to wear to what time of day is recommended.
Exercising While Pregnant
“As a general rule, women who were physically active pre-pregnancy can maintain the same level of physical activity during the pregnancy. If you weren't physically active before the pregnancy and start exercising during pregnancy, you want to take things slow,” says Dominique Luckey, OB-GYN.
Ladis recommends continuing a daily aerobic exercise routine for at least 30 minutes, which is “the exact amount of time it takes to optimize neuroplasticity, the healthy development of new brain cells. With enhanced cellular turnover, pregnant women can reset their minds, improve mood, enhance learning, have more energy, and improve circulation, all of which benefit both you and your baby.”
“If you have a complicated pregnancy with a high-risk condition that requires limited activity, then hiking would not be recommended,” adds Luckey.
Where To Hike
There are many different terrains that you can take while hiking. Luckey recommends choosing one that matches your skill level. “You should pick a hike that is compatible with your level of fitness. If you are used to hiking in high altitudes, then it is also OK to continue hiking at high altitudes,” she says.
In addition, nurse Leisel Teen, founder of Mommy Labor Nurse, urges you to choose a terrain that allows you to be steady on your feet. She says, “You want to minimize the risk of tripping or accidentally falling on your abdomen as much as possible.”
Before planning your hike, Luckey also advises you to get familiar with the nearest hospital, and don’t take your trip alone.
“If you live somewhere with four seasons, spring and fall hiking often offers perfect and safe temperatures for pregnant hiking,” Teen says.
Ladis recommends getting out early in the day to avoid being exposed to the sun’s peak heat. “The goal is to keep your core temperature below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, including during exercise.”
“Pregnancy can cause women’s skin to be more sensitive to the sun and burn more easily,” adds Teen, so applying sunscreen is a must for your outdoor treks. But be careful with what you apply to your skin because your body absorbs these chemicals.
According to Ladis, sunscreen is a term used for products meant to protect the skin, but can include all types of unhealthy chemicals. “Oxybenzone and avobenzone are both endocrine-disrupting chemicals and should be avoided at all costs,” she says. “Instead, look for the word ‘sunblock’ on the label with zinc oxide as the active ingredient.”
“Heatstroke is a matter not to be taken lightly, particularly with pregnancy,” says Kecia Gaither, OB-GYN. Preterm labor is a possibility if you don’t properly hydrate. “High heat causes perspiration and dehydration, which leads to contractions, potentially leading to preterm labor.”
Ladis adds that you should drink cool or room-temp water instead of ice water. “This practice conserves your energy and keeps your body balanced. If pregnancy has caused you to develop a liquid aversion and leaves you feeling more nauseous after drinking water, try creating your own flavored, room-temperature water by adding fresh fruits to make staying hydrated more palatable. If that is not enough, try adding a splash of organic fruit juice without added sugar.”
She also recommends using a glass, ceramic, or metal water bottle instead of plastic to “protect against environmental exposures like chemicals or toxins that can leach into your water — and your body — from the bottle.”
The Best Clothing For Hiking During Pregnancy
“During pregnancy, it can be difficult to regulate your body temperature, particularly during the first trimester, so dressing in layers that are easy to remove is important so you don’t get overheated or feel uncomfortable.”
Clothes that are comfy, breathable, and easily wick away perspiration are recommended.
Another symptom of pregnancy is inflammation. Luckey advises you to “wear comfortable shoes, keeping in mind that your feet may swell during the pregnancy, so you may need a larger size.” Because your center of gravity has changed, possibly making you less stable, she also suggests making a trekking pole a part of your hiking gear to help with stability.
Above all, take proper precautions, listen to your body, and enjoy your hike. “It is a great physical activity and also promotes mental wellness,” Luckey says.
Patricia Ladis PT/CBBA
Dominique Luckey, OB-GYN
Leisel Teen BSN-RN, founder of Mommy Labor Nurse
Kecia Gaither MD/OB-GYN