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Belaying, with bump: First harness designed for pregnant women

Mountain Mama and Mad Rock Climbing teamed up to make a climbing harness designed for pregnant women. The product debut at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market wasn't without controversy and debate. Read our story from the show, plus a Q&A with Mountain Mama Founder Teresa Delfín.

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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

When Teresa Delfín was pregnant with her first child, Fausto, she began developing a line of comfortable performance apparel for swimming, hiking, climbing, yoga and more for pregnant women.

A few concepts and diaper changes later, Mountain Mama was born. “Women shouldn’t be limited when they’re pregnant, so I wanted to give them an outlet.”

For 2013, the outdoor entrepreneur wanted to push the barrier a bit further, beyond apparel. When her second child, Emil, was born she got inspired to team up with Mad Rock Climbing to develop the world’s first harness for pregnant climbers. The full-body adjustable harness is being created in the hands of individuals who care about comfort and safety.

“One of the things we worked really hard to do was keeping all the straps off the belly completely. There’s nothing underneath the belly, and the belay loop is right above it. That’s been the biggest issue, keeping the straps away from the belly and breasts,” Delfín said. In other full-body harnesses, the big chest straps go right over the breasts and when you fall the straps compress everything. “Your boobs are swollen and sore when you’re pregnant so that’s just miserable. Our solution is it has a lot more buckles for customization.”

Mountain Mama’s harnesses go through two testing systems to ensure safety, Delfín said. The company will be developing seven versions before the final product comes out in Spring 2013. They’ll be equipped with padded leg loops, something other full-body harness don’t have, and gear loops. Mountain Mama has experienced climbers who are helping with the construction of the harness, rigorous testing to ensure adequate safety and an active mom and 18-year veteran of the outdoor industry with a Ph.D. from Stanford behind the idea: Who could possibly find this innovative product unsettling?

This January, Delfín met with climber Aimee Roseborrough in Joshua Tree with the “Good Morning America” crew to reveal Mountain Mama’s latest invention. “She was climbing 5.12s at eight-and-a-half months pregnant, but everyone was cool with it and she was top roping everything, which we highly recommend with our harness especially when you’re pregnant,” Delfín said. However, controversy raged through the jet streams of the Internet and immense hate mail from husbands flooded Delfín’s email.

“People said that Child Protective Services should be right there to get Aimee’s baby from her as soon as the baby was born.” What was interesting to Delfín was that none of the controversy was about the gear itself or how the gear might be impacting a pregnant woman’s belly. “Everything was about, ‘Well, we don’t understand climbing; we understand that it’s dangerous. We’ve seen “Mission Impossible.” So how could she be doing that?’” she said. “Our issue was more like, we know women are climbing, we know they’re experienced climbers doing it, it’s great exercise. If you top rope, you’re going to fall less than if you slip on a step.”

Despite the negative Nancys, Mountain Mama has gotten a lot of positive attention during the OR show. “Everyone is psyched! A lot of women climbers who get pregnant switch to bouldering, which has a higher falling risk, or they wear a really uncomfortable harness that’s one-size-fits-all, has no padding, compresses your boobs, and it’s super uncomfortable. They love our harness!” Delfín said. Mountain Mama Designer and sponsored Mad Rock climber Piper Michelle Yi said, “I told Teresa she has to keep getting pregnant so she comes up with more great ideas and change people’s perspective on pregnant women being athletic.

“We’re here to solve that problem and ensure that their adventures don’t stop because they have a little one growing … this is the beginning,” Delfín said.

–Sami Bruce

Teresa Delfín Q&A: Mountain Mama allows expectant mothers to remain active outdoors

Just because a woman is pregnant, or a mother, does not mean her outdoor adventures must come to an end.

That’s why Teresa Delfin founded Mountain Mama, which has quickly become the staple brand for active, pregnant women in the industry. The company offers everything from swimwear, running gear, yoga apparel and is now releasing its first climbing harness for expectant mothers.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your business started?

In the beginning, it was very difficult to find vendors and factories that would take me seriously. People were reluctant to return my phone calls or emails, let alone meet with me. It took quite a bit of persistence and persuasion to get my foot in the door, Once I did, what worked again and again was to ask vendors if they were running at full capacity. Since it was the height of the recession, I knew the answer was almost certainly no, so they had little to lose by taking a chance on Mountain Mama. If they really needed convincing, I’d ask them if they wanted to be remembered as the person who said no to working with the next big success story. I also discovered that part of that challenge was just how difficult it is to manufacture apparel in the U.S. Not only have jobs gone overseas, but the equipment to get it done has, too. We’re proud to be manufacturing in the USA for lots of reasons, but overcoming that has been satisfying.

Why is it important to you to make active wear available for pregnant women?

Because adventure doesn’t end with pregnancy; it’s just beginning! I’m seriously on a mission with this. Sure, it started with a simple need for something no one was making. But I was frankly offended that no one in the outdoor industry was making anything for maternity. I grew up in REI. I worked in climbing shops all through high school and college. I even financed my wedding on my REI credit card. So when I got pregnant with our first son, I couldn’t believe I was being left out in the cold. Literally. It was winter and I needed a baselayer, I needed fleece, and it just didn’t exist.

What are some of the misconceptions about being pregnant and active?

Birth professionals are clear that staying active is a crucial part of a healthy pregnancy for most women. But there’s still an attitude out there that says pregnant women need to be protected, that they’re fragile. The reality is that all pregnant women are engaged in an incredible physical adventure. The first trimester has the same physical energy demands as high-altitude mountaineering. We work to dispel the misconceptions about women being weak or delicate by making clothes that let them look and feel great while they’re out there being awesome.

Do you think it’s become more common for pregnant women to continue to be active?

More women are getting the message from their doctors or midwives that they need to stay active during pregnancy to stay healthy. So, yes, it’s much more common … You shouldn’t be starting a new sport or trying to push your limits, but almost anything you were doing before you were pregnant you can, and should, continue as long as it’s comfortable.

Tell us a little bit about why you thought it was important to have a climbing harness designed for pregnant women?

Climbers get pregnant, too! I’m proof. And harnesses aren’t that different from clothing. A standard harness works fine at first, but as that baby bump grows, you need to make some design accommodations so mama stays comfortable and secure. I’m not a risk taker. I’m the safest person you’ll ever climb with. I’m also a gear junkie. So it was important to me that women who climb have the best possible equipment, gear that lets them perform but offers maximum protection.

How can specialty outdoor retailers help educate their pregnant consumers on how to recreate safely?

Prenatal education and safety is really an area for medical professionals, not outdoor retailers. Pregnancy is not the time to learn challenging new physical activities. What retailers should be thinking about is accommodating the needs of the experienced outdoor women who are already their customers and need gear that works during pregnancy – what they need to keep doing what they already know how to do. Retailers don’t want to drive those women away; they are going to be making expanded buying decisions soon. If you can offer a pregnant woman gear that makes her feel great, you’re going to cement a relationship that can reach her whole family.

–Ana Trujillo