Updated December 3, 2020
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Snowboarding is a popular winter sport. If you are a snowboarder and pregnant you may be wondering: Is snowboarding safe during pregnancy?
I am an expert skier (fair snowboarder) and have been a prenatal care provider for 20 years. I’m answering this question based on my combined experience with both.
I was often faced with questions about the safety of participating in various sports while pregnant.
Women who are early in pregnancy (first trimester) and avid snowboarders want to know if they can keep snowboarding during pregnancy.
Many sports involve some level of risk. Understanding the risks of snowboarding during pregnancy can help you decide if the risks outweigh the benefits.
So what are the risks of being pregnant and snowboarding?
Some providers are ok with an expert skier snowboarding during pregnancy, but the risk of falling is real and on a snowboard is often not within one’s control due to weather and snow conditions.
When you fall on a snowboard the tendency is to fall forward.
Since both of your feet are secured to the same board the fall is more often downhill with your body weight landing on your abdomen or chest.
“Most doctors prohibit skiing and snowboarding at all stages of pregnancy.” (Source)
Even expert snowboarders fall:
By an expert snowboarder, I mean someone who is able to ride and always remain under control and be able to stop and turn on any slope.
If you have this ability and are cautious then snowboarding up to 10 weeks pregnant is probably going to get the OK from your doctor. Assuming you have no early pregnancy complications.
Your best course of action is to discuss it with your provider and make the decision you are most comfortable with.
Things to keep in mind when pregnant and snowboarding:
As your pregnancy advances, your weight distribution changes dramatically. This changes your center of gravity, especially in the second and third trimester of pregnancy.
When snowboarding, the terrain can be unpredictable. You may find yourself riding over packed snow, wet snow, powder, ice, rocks, trees, and dirt.
With so many changes in surface conditions, speed can change very quickly without notice causing you to fall forward.
Weather can also be a concern. If the temperature is too cold or there is a storm (reducing visibility) don’t snowboard.
Here is a rule of thumb, before hitting the slopes:
- Check the weather report at the resort you plan to go to.
- Ask about the snow conditions. Do not go if conditions are icy.
- Other Snowboarders:
Getting hit by another snowboarder might seem unlikely but it is not uncommon. Like driving a car, you do not have to be the one at fault.
In addition, pregnancy is not a time when you are most agile and able to avoid a snowboarder barreling towards you. Snowboarders ride fast and do not have nearly the level of control as a skier.
- Self Blame:
You may not see this mentioned, but as a prenatal care provider, this is very real. After practicing for over 20 years, I took care of many miscarriages.
If the woman miscarried while involved in an activity, there was often a tendency for these women to feel they miscarried because of something they did.
Even though it was not their fault. Understandably upset, it was not surprising to me to see this, and it didn’t matter if they were snowboarding, skiing, or running.
Since as high as 1 in 5 pregnancies will spontaneously miscarry, this situation is not uncommon.
Questions to ask yourself before snowboarding pregnant:
- Are you in your first, second or third trimester?
If you are pregnant and reading this article it is likely that you are in your first trimester.
Once you are into the second and third trimester, the weight of your pregnancy and the hormonal effects on your joints (below) can throw off your balance.
These changes can cause an expert snowboarder to fall.
- Do you have a pregnancy complication?
If you choose to snowboard, it is important to let your prenatal care provider know.
There may be medical reasons why you should not participate in any high-impact sports.
- Are you an expert snowboarder?
If you are an expert snowboarder and decide to snowboard under the safest conditions (see below) your chance of falling is far less than a beginner.
It is just important to remember that any fall can result in an injury.
- What are the snow conditions?
Maintaining control at all times is the way to stay safe when snowboarding. If the snow conditions are icy, it is more difficult to keep an edge on a snowboard than it is on skis. (Skating on dull blades is a perfect analogy, you cannot stand up.)
So you definitely want to avoid icy conditions. Furthermore, if you fall, ice is unforgiving compared to powder.
- Is the level of difficulty of the slope in line with your skiing ability (Novice, Intermediate or Expert)?
You never want to snowboard on a slope that exceeds your level of ability. Especially when pregnant!
- Have you ever snowboarded before?
If you have never been on a snowboard, pregnancy is definitely not the time to learn. This includes expert skiers who are making a transition to snowboarding.
I have seen many expert skiers covered with bruises after their first day on a snowboard.
Understanding the effect of the pregnancy hormone Relaxin:
Relaxin is a pregnancy hormone produced by the placenta that relaxes muscles and loosens ligaments.
The hormone is produced during pregnancy so the pelvis can expand during childbirth. Unfortunately, relaxin not only relaxes the pelvic joints.
It loosens other joints in the body causing instability and less control on a snowboard.
Falling down on a very easy slope can happen to anyone since both feet are fixed to one board. Trying to balance on a snowboard when pregnant is even more difficult.
Related: 20 Winter Pregnancy Survival Tips
Safety factors you want to review to reduce the risk of injury:
- Weather conditions
- Snow conditions
- Slope difficulty ratings
- Snowboarders ability
1. Weather conditions:
Places where you can snowboard often have severe weather changes. Check the weather forecast ahead of time:
- Above Freezing: If you are pregnant, the best time to snowboard is when the temperature is at or above 32 degrees F.
- Below Freezing: Engaging in a winter sport while pregnant, if the temperature is below 32 degrees F, is not a problem if you wear the proper clothing.
- Below Zero: you definitely do not want to snowboard while pregnant.
- Winter Storms (Snow or Rain): Even with goggles, any precipitation decreases visibility making it hard to see the slope ahead.
2. Snow Conditions:
Snow conditions can have a tremendous impact on snowboarding safety.
If you are planning to snowboard during pregnancy….remember to factor in snow conditions:
- Icy Conditions: When the snow conditions are icy, it is not possible to snowboard safely.
- Packed Power: This is the best type of snow when it comes to safety on a snowboard. The reason why is because you are able to make turns and stop.
- Powder: Powder is good for snowboarding and is less traumatic if you fall. However, turning in powder is more difficult and the possibility of falling is far more likely.
3. Slope Ratings:
The classifications (above) are not only based on how steep a slope is. Other factors affect how challenging a trail can be.
The following are some of these factors:
- Width of the slope
- If there are any stationary objects such as trees or rocks
- How flat the terrain is
In addition, there are two difficulty factors that can vary from one day to the next:
- Snow condition … ice, granular, powder
- Weather … storms (rain or snow) affect visibility. In fact, when snow conditions are poor or weather is severe, slopes are often closed to keep snowboarders safe.
The following ranges of steepness or grade, are used when determining a beginner, intermediate or expert slope:
- Beginner – (Green Circle) Slope Grade 6% to 25 %
- Intermediate – (Blue Square) Slope Grade 25% to 40%
- Expert – (Black Diamond) Slope Grade 40% and up
4. Snowboarders Ability
What not to do when you’re pregnant!
Snowboarding Ability and Pregnancy:
As a beginner learning to snowboard, the experience can be painfully challenging. definitely not the kind of physical stress you want to put your body through during pregnancy.
Intermediate snowboarders, have to be particularly careful if they are going to choose to ski while pregnant.
They are capable of stopping and turning but are not able to comfortably ride over challenging terrain.
Expert snowboarders are considered to be capable of handling any slope or snow condition.
Experts can still run into icy conditions and other factors that are not within their control.
Which is safer during pregnancy, snowboarding or skiing?
Medical research studies have been done comparing the risk of snowboarding to skiing. Both studies concluded that abdominal injuries were more common among snowboarders.
These findings are not surprising since snowboarders fall hard on their abdomen more often than skiers.
Falling on a snowboard is typically a downhill fall with the abdomen and chest receiving the initial impact.
The snowboarder’s legs are not free to try and avoid or lessen the impact.
This conclusion is an important consideration when comparing the pregnancy risk of each sport.
During pregnancy, the abdomen is the last place you want your body to be subjected to direct trauma.
Abdominal injuries most often reported in the studies involved the kidney and spleen among snowboarders. The liver is the other most common abdominal organ to be affected.
So…Is snowboarding safe during pregnancy? I feel it is best to avoid snowboarding during pregnancy simply because the risk of falling is not always preventable.
Choosing a low-impact winter sport is much safer and will still allow you to enjoy the exercise and outdoors. Unfortunately, many winter sports are not safe during pregnancy because they are high-impact activities.
Talk to your prenatal care provider about what winter activities are safest for you based on how many weeks pregnant you are and any medical pregnancy concerns.
Snowboarding, once your pregnancy is well advanced, is definitely not a good idea.
If you are an expert snowboarder and under 10 weeks pregnant, yes your risk of falling may be low but it is not zero.
For this reason, deciding whether or not to snowboard during pregnancy is an individual decision based on your own level of risk tolerance.