My First Trimester of Pregnancy as a Hiker
In early May my husband and I were happy to find out that I am pregnant.
This is my first time being pregnant. I knew little about being pregnant before, other than the general knowledge that can be picked up in the media and conversations with family members.
I immediately called my gynecologist’s office to set up the first appointment, which was at 8 weeks. That was approximately 1 month away from when I found out, so I made a point to talk to a nurse and get some recommendations about pregnancy in general, and more specifically, about exercise. One of the first things I learned is that I would need to stop bouldering (climbing without ropes) at the gym, due to the risk of falling/impact. I also asked the nurse for recommendations about hiking while pregnant.
Recommendations for Hiking when Pregnant
In general, walking is considered to be a good and safe exercise while pregnant, but of course hiking can be much more intense than a stroll around the neighborhood. Here is what the nurse on the phone recommended to me.
*These are the recommendations I got from my nurse. Every person and every pregnancy is different and you should consult with your doctor or a nurse to understand what type of exercise is safe for you*
- Don’t overheat
- Drink plenty of water
- Eat well and regularly
- Don’t go over 10,000 ft elevation (this is a recommendation for those who live in Colorado. For women who live at sea level the recommendation is 5,000 ft) due to the change in oxygen levels and lower levels of oxygen at higher elevations
- Stick to distances that are not too far, so you can get back relatively quickly if you don’t feel well
- Avoid hikes with a lot of elevation gain
- If you go backpacking with a partner, have them carry a bit more of the load to lighten your carrying weight
- As you progress with a pregnancy, the distribution of weight in your body changes and it’s easier to lose balance – it’s good to use hiking poles to help with stability
My First Attempt at Hiking while Pregnant
After finding out I was pregnant, for some reason I assumed that I’d be able to continue hiking at a similar pace as before. I had heard of women continuing rigorous exercise throughout their pregnancies, and read that you can exercise the same amount as you did before you became pregnant, at least in the first trimester, before tapering off your exercise in later semesters. I had plans of doing the same types of hikes that we usually do – 7 to 10 miles or so, including at least 1,000 ft elevation gain.
In order to test out hiking in my new condition, I decided to go to a trail that I considered to be easy – Joder Ranch – a 4-mile hike with 570 ft elevation gain. My husband wasn’t too keen on the idea, saying I should take it easy, but I assured him that I would turn around if I didn’t feel well.
I arrived at Joder Ranch around 8 am, which perhaps was a bit too late, because the hot June Colorado sun was already beating down. Under normal, non-pregnant, conditions this wouldn’t have been a problem for me. But that day I found myself having to stop every little while to drink water and rest. I thought, “Maybe it’s just a matter of going slow and resting.” But then came this hill at around mile 0.9. I looked at this hill, a hill that I’d normally think was nothing, and the thought of taking even one step up it was making me feel sick. I knew it was time to turn around and head back home.
On the way back to the car I cried in frustration and disappointment. I’d never not been able to hike before. Since we moved to Colorado about a year and a half ago, I’ve hiked 2 to 3 times a week, every week. Hiking has become a big part of my identity and my life. All of a sudden it looked like it was no longer possible for an undetermined amount of time.
When I got back home I messaged a hiker friend of mine who had just given birth. I asked her, “What is this? Why can’t I hike? How did you manage?” She gave me hope, saying that the first trimester is the toughest, and that you get your energy back in the second trimester. She said she could hike almost normally in the second and third trimesters.
How I’ve Adjusted my Exercise Regime
The general recommendation you see for pregnancy exercise is 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
I knew that I wanted to stay in shape and maintain my muscles for hiking, hopefully starting in the second trimester, so I switched my exercise regime to taking walks in my flat-land neighborhood. Luckily, we have a few parks close to where we live. I learned pretty early on that my comfortable maximum distance per day was about 2.4-3 miles (45 mins to 1 hr). One day I split a total of 5 miles into two walks, but I found that wasn’t sustainable. I didn’t try going more than 3 miles in one walk until near the end of my first trimester. For most of my first trimester, I already felt tired at that point and didn’t want to push it.
In order to avoid the Colorado sun and summer heat, I’ve done morning walks from around 7:30 am – 8:30 am, and evening walks around 8 pm – 9 pm. My husband has joined me for the evening walks, which is nice. However, I’ve found that morning walks work best for me and energize me for the rest of the day. For a while, during my most fatigued weeks, I had a pattern of taking a morning walk, followed by a nap. These naps could last 2 or more hours – similar to naps I used to take after a strenuous 10-mile hike.
It definitely hasn’t been perfect, though. There are days I’ve felt so nauseous, I didn’t go for a walk. There are days when 1.5 miles/30 minutes is the maximum of what I feel well enough to do. On one evening walk with my husband my stomach started hurting and I had to find a place to sit down and rest for a while.
June logs and stats (includes 2 hikes) –
July logs and stats –
August logs and stats so far –
Trying Hiking Again at the End of the First Trimester
From around Week 10 of the pregnancy I started getting some of my energy back, but it’s been gradual, and I still have days where I need to take a nap. Around Week 11 I decided I had enough energy to try an easy hike again.
This time I opted for an even easier and shorter hike -1.4 miles 240 ft elevation gain on the Lichen Loop Trail at Heil Valley Ranch. For only 1.4 miles, it took me 45 minutes to complete. If I was in my peak condition, it would have taken probably about half that amount of time. But of course, I’m not in peak condition.
It turned out being just the right type of hike for me. Even with the short distance and low amount of elevation gain, I found myself huffing and puffing uphill. I also had to stop for water breaks often.
Two days later my husband and I did the Lichen Loop again. That time it felt a little easier. Both times I found it so refreshing to be out in nature and among the trees. The smell of the ponerosa pines at Heil Valley Ranch in particular was so calming and lovely.
I was glad to find out that hiking in nature – at least for short distances – was not barred to me during my pregnancy. However, these short hikes have so far helped me realize that even though I have energy back going into my second trimester, I do not feel up for hiking like I did prior to becoming pregnant, or even more moderate distances like 5 or 6 miles.
Heading into the Second Trimester – My Plans for Exercise
My current plans for exercise heading into the second trimester are slightly modified. I do plan to periodically go for short hikes of maximum 2 miles in nature. If at some point I’m feeling even stronger, I may consider going further on a hike, but I don’t want to push it.
I called my doctor’s office again to talk about this, because my experience was different from what I expected. The nurse (again, you should always consult your doctor/nurse to see what kind of exercise is right for you) told me that walking 1 hour per day is a perfect exercise regimen and that, in fact, there would be no particular benefit to the baby or my pregnancy if I were to go for even longer walks or hikes. She suggested to me a maximum hiking time of an hour and a half.
The nurse did say that if I wanted to add to my exercise regime, pre-natal yoga or pre-natal pilates would be a great way to work on overall muscles. So, I think I will do that – a mix of daily walking, with some short hikes, and some pre-natal yoga thrown in.
I did not expect that pregnancy would impact my hiking and exercise to this extent. However, it really is true that every person has a different experience with every pregnancy.
All of this has been a big adjustment, but I’ve learned to accept that this is what my body is capable of doing at this point in time. After all, it’s creating a little miracle inside!