Seven months pregnant, I lay back and listened to the wind and rain batter our tent. We were camped by the Colorado River on a two night rafting trip in the Eastern Utah desert. I tossed and turned on my sleeping pad, exactly as I would be doing in my bed at home.
My two sons—then one-and-a-half and four years old—and husband all slept peacefully through the rolling thunder, flashing lightning, and my constant repositioning. I got up to stretch out my back and, figuring I might as well be productive, went out to tighten the guy lines on the tent fly. I settled back into my sleeping bag, still restless, and finally drifted off a few hours before sunrise.
How to Survive Camping While Pregnant
Camping while pregnant is about as uncomfortable as it is to be pregnant anywhere—but there are some different elements to consider and plan for. Expect to feel about as good as you do at home, with a little extra effort to take care of yourself. As with anything related to children and the outdoors, camping while pregnant is not easy, but it is worth it.
Women with low-risk pregnancies can often do many of the things they enjoyed doing before getting pregnant, like camping. However, talk with your OB about what a healthy lifestyle looks like to you, including what kind of outdoor activities are safe.
Before getting pregnant, I loved camping, backpacking, rafting, climbing, and everything about the outdoors. After kids one, two and three, nothing about that had changed! In fact, I needed time out of the house even more. Fresh air, a change of scenery, and just being outside can be great for moms and babies. There are lots of reasons to camp when you are expecting, but it certainly helps to be prepared!
When preparing to camp while pregnant, self-care should be first on your list, not last. As women and mothers, it is very easy to feel like everything is on our shoulders. Self-care is always important, but especially when pregnant! Ask for help when you need it, delegate responsibilities, and if someone offers support, take it.
Let me be a little clearer for all of us Type A ‘doers.’ Sit down. Let a partner, older child, or awesome friend dig out snacks, light the stove, and put on the tent fly. Sip your water, have a bite to eat, enjoy the surroundings, and pretend you wouldn’t have done it differently.
Finding Comfort On the Road
Go Where you Know
When camping while pregnant, there are already enough variables, and your energy level is finite. With this in mind, choose a familiar campground or area. Trust me, the ‘Honey, are you sure that wasn’t the turn?’ conversation is way worse when the seat belt doesn’t fit and you really have to pee. Again.
Dial back the itinerary there, Leslie Knope. On a pregnant camping trip, keep it simple and fun, putting time together ahead of ‘must-dos.’ Think about what makes your family camping trips fun—whatever that looks like is your only goal.
Drink More Water
Bring that water bottle with you in the car, and don’t feel bad about extra pee breaks. Pregnant women should be consuming three or four liters of water a day. Staying hydrated is the only way to enjoy this kind of trip!
Stretchy Pants Are Your Friend
When choosing your apparel for the trip, opt for the ubiquitous leggings, yoga pants and comfy shorts. Even if you’re not that far along, your tummy will not enjoy the restrictions of a traditional waistband, especially on a long car ride (hint: pregnancy bloating is a thing).
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
This is the biggest concern for most healthy, pregnant women on a camping trip. When you’re so uncomfortable already, how are you going to sleep? Everybody is different, but here’s what worked for me while camping through three pregnancies.
Visualize Your Spine
One of the most uncomfortable things for me when camping during my third trimester was when the curves of my hips and shoulders were not supported, forcing my spine to bend in the middle.
I resolved this by bringing our heavy duty rafting sleeping pad, called a ‘Paco Pad’, and inflating it three-quarters of the way. This allowed my hips and shoulders to contour, while supporting my spine.
Choose whatever air mattress or sleeping pad solution works best. Double stack if you need to. If you are camping on soft dirt or sand, try scooping out little divots below your hips to better support your body.
While you can certainly bring your enormous pregnancy pillow on a camping trip, you can also find something soft to pad between your knees and thighs. This can be a puffy coat, a camping pillow, or even another sleeping bag folded in half.
Morning Sickness Solutions
You are more likely to become dehydrated while camping, which increases the possibility of morning sickness. Have a quick salty snack and a water bottle close at hand when you wake up in the morning. If you are in bear country, be careful about bringing food into your tent. If you can’t possibly survive without it (like me), put it in a bear-safe sealed bag.
Pregnant ladies can run hot, so give yourself another cover option besides your 20-degree sleeping bag. A sheet or light flannel blanket is really nice when you can’t turn the heat down, but still need a little cover.
Take a Walk
When pregnant, your body creates relaxin, a hormone which allows your joints to soften or ‘relax’. This also means that joint pain is your omnipresent companion. If you can’t seem to shake the discomfort, step outside for a tour of the campground, even in the middle of the night. Fresh air and movement can help your body reset. Looking up at the stars for a minute is far better than tossing, turning, and resenting your partner for slumbering so peacefully beside you.
Pregnancy Camping Meal Prep
Snacks and More Snacks
Camping while pregnant calls for your favorite high-protein snacking options: cheese sticks, cashews, almonds, yogurt, or whatever else sounds appealing. It is easy to forget to eat full meals, especially if you have younger kids, so snacks are very important. I’ve had a friend of mine hand me cheese sticks wrapped in ham when it became apparent to everyone but myself that I had eaten no protein all day.
Bring your favorite chewable antacid tablets to counteract the effects of whatever grill-tastic meal your camping friends create. Even if you haven’t needed them before, it is a very good idea to toss some Tums in the cooler.
Designate a Water-Bottle Steward
Make it someone else’s job to keep your water bottle full and near at hand. Fatigue is real for pregnant women, and dehydration makes it worse. Ironically, this means that when you are most exhausted is usually when you need to get up, find, and refill your water bottle.
Speak Up in the Kitchen
If you see the chef slacking on handwashing or undercooking the food, as a pregnant lady, it is well within your right to speak up or opt out. Don’t worry about their feelings. Food handling and safety is very, very important—listeria and other bacteria can have devastating effects on a developing fetus. Unfortunately, lax cooler maintenance and sanitary conditions in the campground can create ideal breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria. Invest in a good cooler and it will pay off big time.
Hit the Trails
There is a myth in our culture that pregnant women are delicate or easily breakable. But modern medicine has shown the opposite to be true. Step out on the trail with confidence, just be aware of your body and your needs.
Because of possible diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes, wear bug spray and cover up your legs when hiking while pregnant. Always check yourself thoroughly for ticks after a hike.
Drink More Water
I mentioned this before, but drink more water, mama!
Make it a Group Hike
Even healthy pregnancies can have unexpected complications, no matter what activities you’re doing, so don’t go out solo.
Take it Easy, but Have Fun
Listen to your body. The rule of thumb for activities while pregnant? Stick to the things you were comfortable doing before you got pregnant, and only if you’re up to it. This is not the time to push your limits.
Camping while pregnant is a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors and stay healthy and happy, but it’s all about balance.