Climbing Pregnant: Martina Cufar Interview
I first met Martina Cufar at the X Games. We were both young climbers competing against the greats of the sport (Liv Sansoz, Katie Brown, etc). Her climbing always impressed me, so strong, so focused and so smooth. Over the years I would see her at other X Games and World Cups, dominating with her quiet demeanor.
As we both slowly left the competition scene, Martina had several World Cup podium finishes and a first place at the famous Arco Rock Masters event under her belt. She went on to climb several 5.14’s (before many women climbed that grade) and an impressive ascent of Osp, 5.14b. She also came and made an early free ascent of Golden Gate on El Cap (5.13b).
A few years ago, I saw pictures in a magazine article of Martina climbing in Spain with a baby bump. I thought it was awesome that she was still getting out there, traveling to the sport climbing cliffs of Spain while pregnant. As soon as my first blog post was published she kindly reached out and offered up any help or information that she could give on climbing in pregnancy. She now has an adorable two year old son, Tommy.
Below are a few questions that I asked her that I know have helped me already. I think one of the most important things that I have learned through interviewing and hearing from all these amazing women is to listen to your body. Just because something worked for one person, doesn’t mean it’ll work for the other. Women who climb hard before pregnancy sometimes stop part way through, and others have climbed just as hard the entire time.
I hope you enjoy!
Can you tell me about your pregnancy and how you approached climbing?
I remember years ago when I watched Laurent Triay’s “The Fanatic Search 2” I saw women climbing with a huge belly, I thought this was crazy and that I would never do the same….But never say never….I was completely the same! And I didn’t feel I was doing anything bad to the baby.
So to go from the beginning… My pregnancy was not easy the first three months. I had strong nausea, all day long! The worst was in the evening actually! I couldn’t eat almost anything! My tastes also changed a lot, I was eating things I never liked before! And once I remember dreaming about chicken and next day my mother prepared a chicken and I ate it with big pleasure! I was vegetarian before 🙂 I lost 6kg (13lbs) the first three months. People probably thought I was training to do an 8c (5.14b) 🙂 But actually I was really quite weak. I only climbed really easy and on top rope. I lost all my muscles! But then, months 3 to 8 everything was perfect. As soon as I could eat again I had the energy back to live (before I was even unable to write some articles, I just had to wait for the first 3 months to pass by) and I enjoyed climbing a lot! I was strict to only top rope and not to climb too steep of routes where your abdominals work a lot. And I was really careful not to slip with my feet, to prevent any shock. At the beginning I was belaying but then I stopped, because I think it’s more dangerous to belay a big fall than to climb. I realized, with the routes that I knew before I was pregnant, I was climbing even better when pregnant. I found more footholds and tricks to make the move less physical! 🙂
I know you mentioned you climbed until nearly the end – how difficult were you climbing?
Yes! Tommy surprised both me and Nico a bit! He came almost one month too early! I was climbing during the day, I did one 7b (5.12b). I remember swimming at the lake after climbing, and then at night the contractions began…The delivery was loooong! 22h! It was 8c+ (5.14c)! I don’t want to scare you Beth, as there are also easy an fast deliveries!….But it is the truth that when it’s over you forget the pain! 🙂 Tommy was pretty tired from the labor and blue in the face because of the long and hard way out, but in good shape (49 cm, 2700g)! Looking back at the photos I think he was not a nice looking newborn baby, but at the moment when he was born he was the nicest in the world 🙂
Nico was always a bit concerned about my climbing and he would ask the doctor every time we were there if it’s ok that I climb…and the doctor said that since I had climbed for 25 years I must know my body really well.
Did you find it difficult to move during pregnancy?
No not at all! Maybe it was because I had lost 6 kg before and at the end I was just around 4 kg heavier that before being pregnant (61kg – 6 + 10 = 65kg) My belly was not so big, I continued doing Kundalini yoga every morning, I just adapted some exercises,
How soon did you come back after the birth of Tommy?
A friend called me 12 days after the delivery if I want to join him climbing at a cliff 10 min from home. I thought it was not really a good idea, because they say you should rest for three months, but I went anyway 🙂 I did some 6a’s and 6b’s (5.10’s), it was cool, but I felt I was weak and that I shouldn’t do more. But a bit more than 6 weeks after Tommy was born I did my first 8a (5.13b) “after Tommy” and 5 months an 8b (5.13d) “after Tommy.”
Did you have any physical complications from climbing during or after pregnancy?
During the pregnancy everything was ok, I had some pain in the back, but not as much as a year or so after the delivery. My coccyx bone often got blocked in the pelvis and that hurts! It was impossible to sit for a long time. I went to many therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, acupuncturists, and most of all I did a lot of exercisers to stabilize the lower back. I think all this was my fault, because I was climbing hard and breastfeeding for a year and a half. The ligaments became too soft so the coccyx was moving too much.
Another quite annoying thing is that if I do a really hard move, especially in bouldering, I can’t hold my bladder! I admit it’s also my fault, because I preferred going climbing than to do the re-education of the pelvic floor muscles. This is so important – things like Kegel exercises and Ben Wa balls should really be a women’s new bestfriend after pregnancy. Definitely strengthen your pelvic floor muscles before strengthening your abdominals!
If you had found a piece of advice during your pregnancy and returning to climbing, what would you let people know?
Most of all listen to your body! It knows exactly what is good for you and the baby and what not. Don’t take me for an example that you can also climb until the last day. Everybody is different and even every pregnancy is different. Do the things you like to do, because happy mum = happy baby!
How is it now with a two year old? Are you able to climb as much? The same type of routes?
I certainly don’t climb as much as before, but we are really lucky that between me and Nico we have two grandmothers close to home (in France or in Slovenia) that love to take care of Tommy. This allows us to still go climbing together. I took Tommy to the cliff until he was about 3 – 4 months old, it was quite easy, he was sleeping a lot and when he started to cry, I breastfed him and then he slept again. Well, there were also the days when he was screaming and it’s not cool for anybody at the rock! 🙂
Later, I preferred not to go climbing and be on the crux move with Tommy crying under! We have worked it so that Nico stays at home when I go climbing and vice versa, and once a week we ask Nico’s or my mother to watch after him. We also travel together with grandmothers to south of France, Buoux or Saint Leger. We climb some hours and then we go with Tommy to play on the playgrounds, visit some attractions. It’s good for everybody! We climb faster and the time spent in the climbing area is well used…not much resting between the routes 🙂
We certainly do less big walls and multipitch routes then before, but still living under the Mont Blanc Massive, we are able to do something in the “kindergarten opening hours time” (from 9am-5pm), Tommy spends three days a week in kindergarten, or of course with Nico’s mother’s help to do the routes that demand 2 days.
Mit and Josh Harding
Thank you Beth and Martina.
I am so grateful for your blog, and all of the wonderful women who have shared their stories through you. I am wondering when I should start wearing a full body harness. I am 14 weeks now, with only a hint of a baby bump. My regular harness still fits, and thanks to having a really short torso, it sits a bit higher than where my bump is starting to grow. Is it safe to keep wearing it until my belly gets bigger? Thanks for any advice you can give. Now that my nausea has subsided I am dying to get out and climb!
-Mitzi in JTree
Hi Mitzi –
Thank you so much for your comment and kind words. I'm definitely no doctor, gut I think that if you are weighting your harness at all, it's probably a good idea to start wearing a full body harness. I wore my normal harness for a little longer than where you are at, but I was only climbing 5.6's, so never actually weighted the harness. And, the full body harness isn't too bad 🙂
So glad that your nausea has subsided! That is definitely not a fun part of pregnancy!
I hope that you are able to get out and climb and the rest of your pregnancy goes wonderfully!
All my best,