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Paddling through pregnancy

This is my second pregnancy and my second chance to navigate through paddling while pregnant. I realise this subject in SUP is reasonably niche, and I think even more unheard of, at least in the UK, 5 years ago when I was first pregnant. That being said, our sport is growing, and other paddlers like myself may find themselves questioning what we can do.

Although both my experiences have been different, I wanted to speak to a couple of other mums to get their stories so I can provide as much information as possible.

Seychelle is a world-class athlete who gave birth to her son in March 2022 and lives in Florida.

Quite a world away from some of the implications UK paddlers face weather-wise. I was interested to hear about Seychelles' experience and how the pregnancy did or did not change her training as a top athlete.

Is it safe - Yes! And arguably one of the best when necessary care is taken.

Does it help with pregnancy - if it keeps you active, getting out, getting fresh air, and getting exercise, then yes!

Do you feel nauseous when you paddle - I have a couple of times - only on the ocean, not on flat water - again, this could be different for you.

How does being pregnant affect your training - you will be more tired than you think. Your blood volume is increasing by 50%. Whether you track this or not, this will affect your resting and elevated heart rates. Pregnancy is the time to stay in your comfort zone. You can push yourself, but not to the levels you are used to. Initially, I dropped my target HRzones by about 10 BPM and decided to go on RPE (Rate of Perceived Exhaustion) alone. Even then, I check HR now and then, and I notice now, in later stages, my HR is always higher than I think for my RPE.

You will sweat more, and You will need more fluids and hydration.

Did you race while you were pregnant? - no. I did some events just for fun. Key West as a relay. Another local 5k. The question assumes I am or was trying to train, which is not the case. However, I have spoken to several other mama and soon-to-be mama paddlers, and everyone’s story is different. There seems to be a big difference between the early pregnancy stories of the women who were consciously trying to conceive and those who didn’t yet know they were pregnant.

For me personally, as I said before - I had already backed way off on training and knew and felt the moment I was pregnant every single time because I was tracking my cycle and listening to my body.

Lina Augitis - who came 2nd in the ISA Worlds at 6 weeks pregnant - felt something was “off” but didn’t know she was pregnant till after that weekend.

Another paddler I spoke to from the UK came 2nd overall in an ultra event she was participating in at 5 weeks pregnant - also not finding out she was pregnant until after that weekend.

Another fellow mama who knew she was pregnant competed well into her first trimester, feeling the effects of morning sickness and unable to paddle or train much. She still decided to do the Key West classic, coming in 3rd place at 10 weeks pregnant and 2nd place female at Chattajack at 13 weeks pregnant.

Is it safe to surf while pregnant: If you feel comfortable, yes. These answers will be different for every woman. I felt safe surfing in 2-3ft waves but nothing bigger. I also prone surfed (longboard) until 6 months. (yes, you can lie on your belly up to a certain point) again varies from person to person based on their body size and comfort level. I went out sup surfing last weekend at almost 9 months.

Emily King, who has a decade of experience in the sport, is a coach and a top racer who had her son in 2016.

Doing any physical activity whilst pregnant is all about your level of competency and your exposure to doing it regularly before you become pregnant. The wider advice for healthcare professionals is not to start something new as your body is not conditioned to it, and you have no muscle memory. For SUP, you must be fit for purpose and have the skill set and physical fitness to enjoy it. Of course, you should be in good health and have

no complications within you or your pregnancy before even considering SUP paddling. I would ensure you’re not alone whilst on the water or remain in an enclosed environment in which you feel completely in control.

Wear suitable clothing; it’s hard to find pregnancy-friendly wetsuits, but ask friends of different sizes to lend theirs; older suits have more stretch. Have a plan if things aren’t going well and what and who will help you. Know where you can get fast medical advice and support if you don’t feel well. Get friends or partners to carry your boards and kit as balance and lack of seeing where your feet are because of your bump can lead to a risk of a trip or fall.

Being pregnant means your body changes shape, your awareness of safety becomes heightened, and your energy levels change. I had to stay very intuitive about how that felt for myself and my bump whilst SUPing. I was assessing how I was feeling and what I was doing while on the water. This is what I am used to doing as part of my training and delivering SUP.

I did SUP Surf during my pregnancy. Sup surfing is an absolute zen space for me. It’s where I go to unwind and relax. I, of course, followed all my safety protocols and only surfed very small waves in perfect conditions away from hazards such as rocks and other water users. I was balanced enough not to fall off in an unplanned way and rode a larger, more stable board, going to my knees at any time I felt momentarily. Being vulnerable helped me avoid falling off the board, something I am trained to do in white water paddling.

Jayne Rigby of Liverpool SUP Co also runs Barbells and Babies and is a strength and conditioning coach. Jayne had her daughter in November 2021

SUP has been a huge part of my life for the last 7 years. I’m heading into my 6th season as a SUP Coach/instructor. It was something that I was never going to give up when becoming pregnant, but along with my other training regimes, it was something I knew had to be altered as my body changed.

If you’ve never paddled before becoming pregnant, then my advice is to wait until the baby is born or head out with a qualified instructor during your first trimester. I'd recommend light strength training if you want something to help build strength during pregnancy. As mentioned, please speak to a coach, especially one who knows about pre/post-natal training.

During the first trimester, nothing dramatically changed, except the smell of garlic made me sick, so paddling into the Albert Dock, a haven for bars and restaurants, was a real treat for my clients. I just listened to my body, and when I got tired, I rested. And honestly, I did tire! For context, I taught around 2 sessions a day, 4/5 times a week, until I was about 26 weeks pregnant (and 3/4 sessions a day in previous years), so it’s not something that I’ve just done recreationally. It’s been my life, and my body is 100% used to it. Sometimes I knew I had to rest; growing a human is hard work. I then paddled recreationally until around 33 weeks,

after that, I just couldn’t self-rescue, and I knew it was time to hang my paddle up!

The beauty of SUP is that it can be a low-impact sport. Therefore it’s easy on the joints, fantastic for mindfulness and an awesome all-over body workout. An ideal sport to do while pregnant. However, your technique and awareness must be tweaked as your baby bump grows.

Lauren Newman Warren of GBSUP and Founder of The Righteous Mum Womens SUP Surf Camps. Lol had a son in 2019 and is currently 33 weeks pregnant.

I was relatively new to SUP the first time around in 2018, and I had just found my passion for SUP surfing. That was the main thing I wanted to continue, and I did until about 5 months. I was way too worried about coming off the board, even on my knees. Apart from that, it was mainly some leisure paddling. During this time, we had Fiona Wylde come and stay with us. I was lucky enough to get some tips from this amazing athlete, which included changing my paddle technique from twisting to more of a squat, this alone during pregnancy saved my back, and I have carried on ever since.

Most of my first pregnancy was through the nicer months of the year when I didn’t question what to wear, whether in the safety of Bray Lake or the River Thames. Jump forward to October 2022. I now live by the coast and was down to race at Viking Bay the day after finding out I was 5 weeks pregnant, which I did. Just felt like I was hungover. The following week we were heading to Croyde for our Women's SUP Surf Camp, where the conditions were great, and I felt well enough to be out on the waves. I’m pretty sure the bad weather hit us from then on. I had great plans of being out on the water all the time, as I have a wealth of knowledge I didn’t have the first time, but I had to be realistic.

Our waters over the winter are baltic, and despite fitting into my wetsuit at 18 weeks, appropriate clothing just gets harder, so I had paddled when I thought it safe to do some and the gym when not.

One of my best buys that have made me proud through both pregnancies is a pair of ION neoprene leggings and a top. I have had to resort to using one of Scotts' neoprene tops. For our March Surf camp, I was lucky to borrow a Rooster Pro aqua fleece top which meant at 29 weeks, I could still go and catch some waves on my knees, but that didn’t matter the thrill was there.

I still had a goal to paddle the first of the GBSUP races as part of the challenge tour, which I believe is perfect for pregnant paddlers. It means you can still feel involved and set your own targets, whether the distance or time. The question of whether you could race is hard. Technically, yes, but as safety becomes a hot topic in our sport, is there a need?

Unfortunately, the race was postponed due to yet more bad weather, and although disappointing as I sit here 33 weeks pregnant, I will keep paddling. I may have to wait for the perfect weather, pick a bigger board or decide 10 mins is enough.

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