There’s no point trying to conceal it any longer. After all, despite my best efforts, ‘it’ is failing miserably to remain inconspicuous beneath my increasingly strained and unforgiving summer tops…
I am thrilled to announce that, as of the end of this summer, we are expecting another mini-explorer to be joining us on our outdoor adventures!
I’m currently at around the six month mark of pregnancy. After the usual rocky first few months of nausea and debilitating tiredness, I have been hugely fortunate to enjoy a relatively smooth second trimester. I’ve kept up with my weekly yoga sessions (thanks to wonderful Rebecca of GetCalmer Yoga) which I’m sure has a lot to do with feeling stronger and more vital in this pregnancy than either of my previous two. I’ve also managed to keep up with our usual family walks and wanders, including those of the last couple of weeks which have been spent in Switzerland.
It’s got me thinking about the things I’ve learned about hiking whilst pregnant over the last five years. Here are my top tips for keeping up with an active walking lifestyle based on my personal experience to date.
N.b. I must add that I am not medically trained and have experienced fairly straightforward pregnancies so far so please do make sure to consult your own midwife or doctor for medical advice before embarking on anything new.
- Just keep moving. OK – ignore this for those truly hideous days of nausea and exhaustion in the first trimester. I am the first to admit on the worst of those days I simply curled up into a ball, stuck CBeebies on and counted down the hours until bedtime! As a general rule though, little and often keeps your body ticking over. A simple ten minute stroll even on a day when I am feeling lousy revives depleted energy levels, makes me feel more positive and helps me sleep more soundly at night. It also means that when I suddenly have the get-up-and-go for my usual longer adventures I have the physical ability still to keep up with the rest of the family. I also find that if baby is lying in an awkward position then a good walk will usually help shift them round to somewhere more comfortable.
- Listen to your body. During our first week in Switzerland I took in a 1571m mountaintop and 6 hours of hiking with not an ache to show for it the next day. A week later my brain must have sent my body a memo mentioning that I’d hit the third trimester. I could barely make it to the corner and back without feeling exhausted. I had the same thing with Roo: at 38 weeks I got so frustrated at taking 30 minutes to waddle painfully to the village shop, normally a simple ten minute amble. On my due date however I enjoyed wandering the gorgeous Sonning to Shiplake Walk! Pregnancy throws all sorts of curve balls and niggles at you, some totally out of the blue. I’m a big believer in knowing that your body knows what is best for you, so don’t beat yourself up if you find you can’t exercise at the level you would normally expect of yourself. If you’re really struggling then go and see your midwife or doctor – both iron level and pregnancy asthma flare-ups have caused energy/respiratory issues during my own pregnancies.
- Breathe deeply. As pregnancy progresses your lungs get increasingly more cramped. When I’m exercising, even very lightly, I sometimes become aware of the fact that I’m breathing in a very shallow way. It’s something many of us do out of habit, pregnant or otherwise, but which does absolutely nothing to help your poor old body cope with all the extra demands required of it whilst working hard for two! I try to pause often when hiking, particularly if the going suddenly seems tough. A couple of deep breaths down to your stomach (my old singing teacher used to describe the right technique as imagining dropping a bucket into a well) and I’m usually good to go again.
- Take it easy on the up-hills. Don’t expect to keep on charging uphill at the same pace as normal. Apart from the obvious reason of baby needing the oxygen and your heart having to work extra hard, you’re also likely to feel dizzy and ruin your hike if you take things too fast. NHS advice is to be able to maintain a conversation during exercise. Plan double the normal time for your ascents, rest frequently and walk across the path in zig-zags if you are finding the going tough. Be prepared to call it a day and retreat if you’re just not feeling it. Remember too that walking at extreme altitudes, no matter how flat, is not recommended during pregnancy.
- A walking pole is your new best friend. If you’re still up for tackling those hills then consider taking a walking pole or two with you. They give you some extra support on the way up and help to steady your balance on your descent. They are also brilliant at helping keep excess weight and jarring off your knees, hips and other joints as you come downhill – particularly important during the later stages of pregnancy and keeping the post-hike aches and pains at bay. I wouldn’t have been without my borrowed stick on our mountain walk in Switzerland.
- Don’t ditch the hiking boots. Unless you are taking the simplest of strolls then good hiking boots are also an essential part of your pregnancy hiking kit. All the extra weight and distortion of balance makes me super-clumsy on my feet during pregnancy. Of course, if you do have a wobble then baby’s extra bulk also means your more likely to be unable to save yourself as easily and those extra flexible ligaments mean you are more likely to cause yourself some unwanted aches and pains. Hiking boots, especially those with some ankle support, can help tackle rougher ground safely and steady you if you stumble. I wouldn’t be without my beloved Meindl extra width boots!
- Adapt your route. If, like me, you suffer from chronic Bear-Went-Over-The-Mountain-Itis but are simply not feeling up to your normal outdoor challenges, then remember that there are many routes with great views that involve very little effort. One of those for me includes the Ridgeway National Trail. You can often drive up to a car park at one of the many starting points along it and then simply saunter along the hill-top on a largely flat path as long as you fancy. Many of the Baby Routes paths in Pembrokeshire are similar, as are many stretches of UK coastal paths and there are bound to be countless others wherever you may be – raid those OS Maps at the local library & check the contours! In Switzerland over the last few weeks we used cable cars a few times to combine easy walking with breathtaking views. Consider it good practice for walking with a baby or toddler. It has taken Roo 4 years to be able to tackle serious hills under her own steam and that’s only when she’s in the mood.
- Keep it simple with the kids. With two pre-schoolers accompanying me on most of my hikes I have been forced this time round to accept that I cannot go gambling off for miles on my own with them, no matter how keen they are at the start of a walk. I can no longer carry my youngest and she is at that awkward stage of being able to gallop along one minute and then sitting down demanding to be carried the next. All my routes walking solo with them need to have a quick escape route or be off-road pushchair friendly and not be so challenging that my eldest risks getting fed up too. When I want to do something a little longer or more challenging my husband or someone else is usually signed up to come along too.
- Be comfy. Comfortable and good-performance active maternity wear is an absolute pain to find. It is crucial however for enjoying more than a quick ten minute amble around the fields, particularly once your bump starts to show. I’ll be posting more on what I’ve been using this pregnancy soon but whatever you choose, make sure it’s comfy, supportive and ideally in breathable, natural fibres. Support socks are good if you suffer from circulation issues during pregnancy. A good wire free sports bra is also a must if like me your bust goes a bit crazy at the first sniff of pregnancy hormones! They do exist. Promise.
- Be prepared. Taking a bottle of water and some basic snacks is common sense on any hike. When you’re pregnant it is even more important to keep well hydrated and to have something to give your blood sugar levels a bit of help when necessary. The kids will appreciate them even if you don’t need them! Don’t forget the sun-cream and sun-hats in hot weather (you burn more easily when expecting) and if it’s really warm keep hikes shorter, early in the day and in the shade.
- Stretch. Walking is a recommended activity during pregnancy. It’s relatively gentle and keeps you active at a slower pace. All the same, head off for a few hours sporting a big baby bump and you’ll likely notice it the next day if you don’t do something to counteract it. Yoga has been my go-to for stretching out tired muscles. Gentle stretches using a gym/birth ball to support have also been really good for my achy back in the past. I unashamedly wander about in my oh-so-sexy support socks if I’ve been on my feet for quite a while during the day. Lying on the floor with my bottom tucked up against a wall and my legs supported up it above me is also really nice to get the blood flowing back the other way post-hike.
Those are all the tricks that have kept me out Baby Routing during my pregnancies that I can think of right now. Do you have any to add?
We are off to Northumberland National Park and the Scottish Borders in a few weeks time so I’m hoping I can keep them all in mind for myself then. Fingers crossed the early third trimester is kind to me and we get lots of lovely new walks in. Then it’s just a few months before we start learning to Baby Route all over again with three mini-hikers aged five and under!