03 June 2010

The New Obstacle for Jiu Jitsu Women

As women in a male dominated sport we have a lot of things things working against us. Lack of other females to train with, different body make up than the men, the occasional social stigma of being a ‘female fighter’ and now another thing that seems to be happening more and more frequently, the possibility of becoming a mother. I am not at all saying becoming a mother is something bad, it is an amazing and miraculous thing. There is a big difference though when a female teammate is expecting and a male teammate is expecting. The male teammates can of course still go to practice and train their butts off. What happens to the females though? sometimes the pregnancy is planned, sometimes it is not, either way it starts to pose a few obstacles when sparring goes from one on one to, two on one.

The first female I remember this happening to was Lindsay. Lindsay and her boyfriend came along to class and jumped in full force. Not long after they started though, Lindsay got pregnant. She gradually stopped coming to class, but ended up with a beautiful baby girl named Mia. Lindsay is back at class and is a hard working blue belt. Her and Ken have worked out a way to where they are both at as many classes as possible and we have even gotten to see little Mia once or twice. She knows how to get mount, and armbar.

Last year one of our blue belts moved back from Wisconsin. Allison is a great competitor and a great girl to have around in class, she was always asking questions and her amazing base made all of us better for having her around. When she left we were all sad to see her go. So when Alison and her boyfriend Aaron moved back we were all happy to see her back. Maybe two months after, Alison pulled us aside and told us she was pregnant. She comfortably trained up to about 4 months before she stopped training bjj. Recently Alison showed back up to practice with baby Aiden in tow. Aiden is about four months old now and he loves to watch practice. he watches on the side, laughing. If anyone is sitting on the side taking a break during sparring we play with the baby while Alison spars.

DSC01852                             Aiden enjoying class DSC01857                            Alison and baby Aiden

And now Vanessa, our brown belt, is pregnant. She is 5 1/2 months along and still coming to jiu jitsu. When she is there she trains the techniques, and will occasionally spar, but she is unsure how long it is okay for her to keep up what she’s doing. No one really knows the doctors tell her to be careful but they aren’t really sure what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is, and what she should  or should not do.  So as she is changing weight classes Vanessa keeps training, and planning for her baby girl. DSC01854                    Vanessa at 5 1/2 months pregnant

So now the thing we need to do is figure out how much is too much… if there is too much. Or do we just keep training until it becomes too uncomfortable for us? In no way am I condoning doing a tournament 5 months pregnant, I am strictly talking about the training. The hardest thing to do is come back after a layoff, and pregnancy can make for a very long lay off. So if any of your fellow female teammates/ friends that do jiu jitsu get pregnant, encourage them to keep training as long as she feels comfortable, and after the baby encourage them to some in when they can, so #1 we can meet the newest teammate, and #2 see her and get her back on the mats! we have a new generation of jiu jitsu fighters being born by some tough moms, lets make this beneficial to everyone!


  1. I am a first-timer to this blog. Really great stuff. I have one son who is five and I started BJJ about a year and a half ago. The thought of having to stop training for nine months is really disheartening. Does that make me a bad person? Where are my priorities? lol. I will be really interested to see how people weigh in on this one. Great blog!

  2. Great blog - doctors generally don't know that much about many of the lesser known sports and frankly pregnancy is still a surprisingly murky area as far as medical knowledge goes. There are three things that seem to be agreed upon though, whether you're talking to docs, athletes or trainers:

    1. During pregnancy, the body releases the hormone Relaxin, which allows the body to stretch beyond its normal capacity, in order to facilitate pregnancy and birth. This can put pregnant BJJ women at risk of overextending and damaging ligaments if they are not careful, so it's something to watch out for. In a lock or awkward position, tap when you would normally tap, even if it feels like you can hold out.

    2. The baby's core temperature inside the mother is one degree higher than her own, but it has no way to sweat or otherwise lower its temperature. This means the women have to be careful not to exercise beyond the point where their core temperature goes up by more than 1 degree celcius.

    3. Not a scientific fact to back this up but everyone appears to agree: If you've been training for a long time and you are careful and *listen to your body*, it's generally agreed that you can continue for as long as it feels comfortable to you, unless you are at risk for complications (always consult a GP or doctor). However, it is also generally agreed that pregnancy is NOT the time to take up a new sport, regardless of which sport it is.

    Hope that's helpful :)

  3. I had been training BJJ for about a month when I found out I was pregnant. I kept training until about 5 or 6 months, and returned when the baby was about 2 months old (she is 7 months old now). I think the biggest reason I came back is that my whole family trains at the same gym – I kept showing up anyway, might as well show up in a gi, right?

    My doctor said I could keep training as long as I was enjoying it. I did stop rolling with the big guys and the spazzy guys right away. It wasn't long until I was only rolling with the only other female at my gym, carefully avoiding knee on belly. The part that I didn't anticipate was returning to the gym while nursing – side control can be a submission unto itself if it's been a while since I fed the baby. I try to time things properly to avoid that, but sometimes it just doesn't work out. Sometimes the baby just doesn't settle down and I sit on the sidelines nursing while my husband rolls. Most of the time, though, the baby is very cooperative, sitting and playing by herself on the mat or in a pack & play, walker or bouncy seat. She rolled over for the first time on the mat – I love that! She'll be break-falling in no time!

    Great blog, looking forward to reading more!

    Emily Lemos