I had been dreaming of big moves at the top of the boulder wall, or fighting hard on a sport route only to take a whipper, for the last months of my pregnancy, so I was eager to get back to it ASAP once the Bub was born. After 2 weeks my body no longer felt like it had been through the car crash of giving birth and I had a short, easy climb at the wall, mostly to get out the house and stretch my limbs for my own sanity, but nothing prepares you for the jiggle of your empty postpartum bump as you hop off the boulder wall…I was very lucky and had no problems with loose joints postpartum and had help from family and friends by the bucket load, but so many women are in a different situation.
Try not to feel pressured to rush back into things your body isn't necessarily ready for, just because others seem to be bouncing back quickly. Loose joints, damaged core and generally exhaustion make you prone to injury, thus lengthening your return to climbing. Also you're body might be ready but your mind completely understandable elsewhere and that's okay too! But for when the motivation does come back to you and you feel like grabbing it, I hope these 9 tips help you return back to climbing with relative ease (there’s only so much ease when you have a newborn attached to your boob 24/7), whether you are 1month or 1 year postpartum. Bear in mind every recovery is different, I’m no medical professional, and as always listen to your body, etc etc…
Keep Your Core in Check
Diastases Recti is the separation of your ab muscles during pregnancy, I optimistically assumed this wouldn't affect me because I thought my core was quite good shape, ha! After giving birth there was a squishy 3-4 finger gap between my muscles in line with my belly button. When I started climbing at 2 weeks this had reduced to a 2 finger gap and is still getting smaller now. Look up Sahrmann exercises for strengthening your deep core and helping knit your muscles back together and don’t jump straight back on steep stuff or things where you are over extended.
DO YOUR PELVIC FLOOR EXERCISES
No seriously do them. Do them when you’re feeding your Bub or when you’re in the shower or walking to the shops, it doesn’t matter where, just do them. You’re pelvic floor has been through one hell of a ride and deserves some TLC. I would also advise not jumping or falling from the top of the boulder wall for the first while until you’re sure everything is good and strong again to avoid any, ahem, accidents…
**edit- after seeing a women's health physio, she advised me to also do kegals in different climbing positions and in really deep squats, this has been helping immensely, I would highly recommend Elaine from Taylor Physiotherapy in Edinburgh!
We are lucky to have been living a 5min drive from a climbing wall, and even then I usually can’t be arsed going, so having something you can do at home is a must in my books. We are planning on putting a home board in our new house as it is a staggering 20mins away from a wall and I know the military operation of getting there 4x a week just wont work.
You obviously don't need to go to such extremes, but having something you can do at home, even if it isn’t climbing specific, makes the world of difference. I’m talking a space where you can do a 10min workout of squats and lunges, a set of dumbbells you can do a 4min shoulder routine with, or if you’re feeling ambitious, a fingerboard.
Little and Often
Being motivated to dedicate 4 hours 4x a week just isn’t going to happen. I optimistically (this is a theme) wrote myself a training plan at 3 weeks postpartum, but babies don’t stick to training plans and neither do tired Mamma’s. Do what little you can and do it often. The tiniest bit goes a really long way if you’re doing it frequently. I’m talking a few squats holding your Bub while the porridge is in the microwave, or leaving a set of dumbbells where they are easy to grab and doing a couple shoulder presses on your way past them. Every little helps.
Attempt to go climbing (indoor or out) as often as you can/want to. The more times you try, the more times you will actually get some climbing done as opposed to sitting feeding your Bub from the edge of the mats secretly hating everyone else that’s climbing and the fact men can’t lactate..
I’m a habitual put-er off-er. I wake up in the morning with a whole list of things I wan’t to do but just continuously put them off until the end of the day then think ‘oh well it’s too late to do them now’. It’s much easier to get to the wall or the crag if you tell a friend that you’ll meet them there. If I have committed to meeting someone I’m going to go, I might be 1.5 hours late but I’ll be there. The plus side of this is that you also get a helping hand for the Bub, which leads me onto my next point.
Deploy the grandparents and the baby loving friends. Take all the help you can get. I can happily boulder at the wall on my own with Bub watching from her seat, but I can get a lot more done if there’s someone else there to help look after her. Climbing indoors an extra set of hands lets you climb in areas where you wouldn’t be able to take the Bub, and outdoors it makes it a hell of a lot less stressful than worrying that she’s going to wake up or start fussing when you’re half way through your redpoint.
Later on it’s great if this help is able to look after Bub on their own for a few hours to occasionally give yourself baby free climb with your partner or friends, this break will feel like a breath of fresh air. Treat this help very very well, you don’t want to loose them!
Having the right kit can make all the difference, these are my essentials;
Car seat- For the fist few weeks Bub slept most of the day just waking up to feed, so bringing her from the car into the climbing wall in her car seat meant she could continue sleeping in a safe place where I could see her and nobody needed to hold her.
Pop up bassinet- Car seats a bloody heavy and there’s no way I’m carrying one to the crag. A pop up bassinet does the same thing as a car seat but is a fraction of the weight and size. Practice putting it up and down in your house first, thank me later.
Seat with Toys- When Bub is awake most of the day having a seat she can be in with toys that keep her amused is really handy at the climbing wall or crag. Ask if you can leave one at the wall to avoid the hassle of bringing it every time.
Breast pump- Means you can express milk and have a day climbing sans Bub. Word of wisdom, bring it with you. Painful engorged boobs do not make for a good days climbing.
Portable Baby Jail- If Bub can crawl/toddle a lightweight play pen works well for taking to the crag.
Make the Most of It
She isn’t mobile yet, you can put her down in a safe place and know that she won’t crawl or toddle away. I imagine it’ll be much harder having to run round after a toddler…
On the physical side, pregnancy increases the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood for up to 6 months after giving birth. More oxygen = less lactic acid in your muscles, therefore less pump! Ever heard of abortion doping? It was discussed at the 1988 anti-doping world conference as there were rumours of athletes inducing and aborting pregnancies to reap the performance enhancing benefits. Very controversial! So now is the time to train endurance and make the most of all that extra oxygen to get your base level fitness up.
Let Go of Expectations
This works in both ways. My first session back I expected to feel like I had taken a giant 15kg (yep I put on 15kg) weight vest off… Definitely not the case! I was shocked to be struggling on the same things I struggled on while 30 weeks pregnant… On the other hand I’m still amazed at my bodies ability to recover and improve so quickly. With a trip booked to Margaelf at 11 weeks postpartum my goal was to just manage to do some climbing, I would never have expected to climb at around my highest grade in a couple sessions or to onsight close to my limit. Your body can surprise you in both ways, don’t expect too much or too little of yourself, there's no way of knowing how you're body will cope postpartum so it's best to just go with the flow and accept what happens, even if it's not what you expected.
Look After Your Body
On top of growing a child for 9 months, giving birth is a traumatic experience for your body, so it definitely deserves to be treated nicely postpartum. I would recommend going to see a physio to check your core and get exercises to avoid the climbing/breastfeeding slouch. Treat yourself to a sports massage to relieve your muscles, or if you’re on a budget like me, take some time twice a week to roll a tennis ball around on your back against the wall or on the floor, i.e. the poor mans sports massage. Look after your body, treat it well, it’s done amazing things Mamma!