One day you’re speeding down a ski slope with the cold wind whipping your face, and the next day you’re pregnant: Now everything you love is off-limits, and your only exposure to snow-covered mountains is watching competitive skiing on TV from the safety of your couch.
That’s how it goes during pregnancy, right? Skiing and other cold-weather sports like snowboarding are totally 100-percent banned?
Yes, mostly… but also no, not always. It’s obviously not that cut and dry. While there are definite risks to skiing during pregnancy — and you may reasonably not want to take any of them — there are times when skiing could still be an option for physical activity during pregnancy. Figuring out whether you can safely ski is the most important thing.
Here’s what you need to know about hitting the slopes when you’ve got a bun in the oven, from why it’s dangerous to how you can make it safer (and how to know when to stay at the lodge sipping hot chocolate with your feet up).
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Generally speaking, skiing during pregnancy isn’t recommended by doctors. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) includes skiing as one of the exercises you should avoid, along with surfing and horseback riding, because it “put[s] you at an increased risk of injury” due to the likelihood of falls.
That’s not a one-size-fits-all recommendation, however. Whether you’re an avid skier trying to weigh the pros and cons of continuing with your favorite physical activity during pregnancy or you just got invited to hit the slopes with some friends at some point while pregnant, your doctor might say you’re able to do it — but you need to be informed of the specific risks to you and your baby. Here’s what to keep in mind.
Collisions and falls
Hands down, the biggest risk of skiing or snowboarding during pregnancy is abdominal trauma. This can happen when you’re crashed into by another skier on the mountain or when you fall on the icy slopes.
There are different points of view about when this type of trauma is more likely to interfere with your pregnancy. These are the things to consider in each trimester:
- First trimester. Your baby is in a critical stage of development. The risk of miscarriage is higher during the first trimester than any other, so some doctors will advise you to avoid taking any unnecessary risks at this vulnerable point in pregnancy. At the same time, though, your baby is so small that it’s extremely protected inside your uterus, so there may be less risk involved with trauma in the first trimester as opposed to the third, for example.
- Second trimester. They don’t call it the “sweet spot” for nothing — the second trimester of pregnancy is, for many people, the easiest. You’ve made it past the fragile and nausea-ridden first trimester, but you’re not yet in the waddling, “nothing-fits-me-anymore” phase of the third. You’re still at risk of collisions and falls while skiing, of course — and there a lot of factors (including degree of impact and where the trauma occurs) that determine how likely such an accident is to do harm to you or baby. But all things being equal, the second trimester may have the lowest risk.
- Third trimester. You have two things working against you in the third trimester — your center of gravity and your baby’s growth. In the third trimester, your balance will likely be affected by the shifting weight of your belly, and that could make staying confidently upright on your skis more challenging than usual. Your baby is also larger now, too, and while they’re still pretty cushioned inside your abdomen, that layer of protection has gotten smaller as your baby has gotten bigger. At this point in pregnancy, a moderate abdominal trauma could trigger
placental abruption or even rupture your uterus.
This risk is more for you than for your baby. You’re more susceptible to muscle injury during pregnancy because the hormones that prepare your body for labor by relaxing your pelvic ligaments also loosen the rest of your ligaments.
That means you’re more likely to end up with strained muscles and torn tendons — and while those things won’t hurt your baby, they’re going to be pretty darn uncomfortable for you to cope with during pregnancy.
ICYMI, pregnancy brain is a real thing, and wherever you are in those 9 months, you’ve probably been affected by it to some degree. You may not be able to swiftly assess how to handle a skiing-related challenge while on the slopes when your instincts have slowed down just enough to turn your normal snap judgments and cat-like reflexes into a thing of the past.
Of course, you might be feeling just as sharp as ever. Mental fog is just one of several changes that could happen during pregnancy, but it’s one you need to be aware of if you’re planning to do an activity that requires quick thinking.
Fatigue and dehydration
Your body is basically working overtime 24/7 during pregnancy, so any kind of strenuous activity can lead to burnout faster than when you aren’t pregnant. Pregnancy isn’t a time to “push through the pain” or leave your water bottle back at the lodge.
Neglecting your self-care on the slopes can lead quickly to extreme fatigue and dehydration, both of which increase your overall safety risks while skiing or snowboarding.
Now that you know the risks, you may decide to continue skiing or snowboarding during pregnancy — with some modifications and adjustments, obvs. Here’s how you can adapt your normal routine to pregnancy and keep you and baby safe.
- Talk with your doctor. As we said, skiing is generally not recommended during pregnancy — that doesn’t mean you can’t ever do it, but that the decision to keep skiing should be made as part of a conversation with your OB-GYN. It may be fine for you to ski based on your experience and overall health, or your doctor may warn you against it for individual reasons. Talking with your doctor to see what they think should always be the first step.
- Know your skill level. If you’ve been skiing for years but never made it off the bunny slope, now isn’t the time to start advancing to more challenging runs. If you’re an experienced skier, you’ll probably get the go-ahead from your doctor to do your normal thing (as long as you’re still comfortable with it), but the rule of thumb is to stay at or below whatever skill level you were prepregnancy.
- Don’t start for the first time. Always wanted to learn how to ski or snowboard? Unfortunately, you need to wait until after the baby is born. Pregnancy isn’t the time to start up a new strenuous activity. While those who performed more rigorous types of exercise before pregnancy are usually permitted to keep going, doctors aren’t usually in favor of new skills being performed unless it’s for a pregnancy-safe exercise.
- Stay on flat ground. If you’re worried about careening down a ski slope and wiping out at the bottom, opt for cross-country skiing or even snowshoeing. Although you could still fall down, the risks of injury are much lower. You’ll also have more time to react and stay clear of other skiers, which reduces your risk level even further.
- Avoid crowds. Since you can’t control what other people on the slopes do, it’s best to avoid them as much as possible. Ski during off-hours, like weekdays, and skip the crowded vacation weeks and holidays.
- Acclimate to the altitude. Pregnancy often means a harder time in high altitudes, so you’ll probably need to give yourself more time to acclimate. Take it slow and don’t head out to ski until you feel comfortable. And since blood pressure can rise at higher elevations, don’t head to the mountains at all if you have gestational hypertension.
- Pace yourself. Speaking of taking it slow, you can’t think of yourself as being in competition with anyone during pregnancy. The fact that you’re on your feet in skis while pregnant is accomplishment enough! Instead of outpacing everyone else, just focus on the beneficial aspects of exercise during pregnancy and enjoy your time in the fresh air.
- Stay hydrated and take breaks. You’re more susceptible to fatigue and dehydration during pregnancy, so make sure you have plenty of water, are dressed appropriately for the weather and the amount of physical activity you’re doing, and that you take a few more breaks than you might normally.
It can be hard to go from a long-endurance skier to a pregnant person with half your usual stamina, but if that’s your reality, there’s no good fighting it. It’s important to listen to your body when doing any kind of physical activity during pregnancy, especially one that’s as intense as skiing or snowboarding.
Here are some signs that it might be time to stop skiing (either for the day or for the rest of your pregnancy):
- You’re having a hard time balancing or staying on your feet.
- You’re feeling lightheaded, fatigued, or dizzy.
- You’re overheated, sweating excessively, or extremely thirsty.
- You’re anxious or extremely worried about your safety during pregnancy.
- You’re having pain or soreness of any kind, especially in your back or legs.
While these are examples of when you may need to call it quits, there may be other times as well. The key is to always assess your physical and mental comfort level before heading out to ski during pregnancy: If you feel anxious, tired, unwell, or uncomfortable in any way, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Exercise is strongly recommended during pregnancy by everyone from the
Exercise builds endurance for labor and delivery (trust us, you’ll need it!). Frequent exercise during pregnancy can also:
- improve your mood and sleep
- reduce back pain, leg cramps, and sciatic nerve pain
- reduce swelling
- decrease stress
And of course, it can generally just make it easier to survive the marathon that is 9 whole months of growing and carrying a human being in your body.
If you want to exercise but have decided not to chance it with skiing or snowboarding, there are still plenty of safe ways to maintain your physical activity levels. With permission from your doctor, you can:
- do yoga and Pilates
- walk or jog
- do low-impact aerobics classes
- take up indoor cycling classes
- strength train
Just remember that if you’ve never done any of these activities before, take them slow and steady to build up your strength and skill over time.
Skiing or snowboarding during pregnancy is typically not recommended, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for you. The most important thing is to consult with your doctor before starting any exercise routine during pregnancy, especially one that carries some risks.
You and your doctor may decide — based on your skill level and overall health — that skiing with some modifications is OK. Otherwise, don’t risk it.