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The Definitive Guide To Cycling When Pregnant

Whether you are a seasoned cyclist before you became pregnant or are simply looking for a way to get some exercise during pregnancy, you are probably anxious to know whether cycling when pregnant is safe.

To help you make an informed decision, we have put together some of the advice gleaned from health professionals and organisations on this very topic. However, it is very important that you begin to trust your own instincts: you will be given plenty of advice from anyone and everyone during the next few months (and beyond) and whether you take that advice is up to you. But at some point, hopefully you will develop the confidence – if you don’t already have it – to know when to accept advice and when to just smile and nod politely. You’re a mum now, and ultimately no-one else has the responsibility that is on your shoulders during pregnancy, and only you can make decisions about what your baby needs. So, that said, read on to find out how to cycle safely when pregnant.

General advice

Whatever your background or fitness level, cycling when pregnant can be a fun, safe and effective way to keep fit. There are just a few points you need to bear in mind to protect yourself and your baby along the way.

The main risk at any stage of pregnancy is that you might fall, which could harm you and your baby, but provided you take care and account for the fact that over the course of the pregnancy your centre of gravity will alter, you can continue or begin to cycle.

Before you begin

If this is your first pregnancy, accept early on that you will become slightly obsessed with what is ‘normal’ over the next few weeks, months and indeed years. You will be seeing the doctor and your midwife a lot more than you might initially expect, because you will naturally want to know whether what you are doing or planning to do will be okay for the baby. So, start now – ask your midwife or doctor if there is any medical reason why you should not cycle. Everyone is different and if you have a particular set of circumstances that mean you should avoid cycling when pregnant, then this is something you need to know.

If you are given the all-clear, have a look at the benefits and any disadvantages and weigh these up before deciding whether to proceed.

Benefits of cycling in pregnancy

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), cycling can benefit you and your baby. Cycling when pregnant can:

  • Make you feel less tired
  • Reduce swelling in your lower limbs and varicose veins
  • Ease lower back pain
  • Improve muscle tone, endurance and strength (very useful preparation for giving birth)
  • Make you feel better within yourself
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Reduce the risks or extent of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Better yet, women who exercise during pregnancy tend to have quicker labour times and more straightforward deliveries.

Morning sickness is horrible, and if you suffer from it you may feel as though you can’t face any exercise of any sort. But if you can bear it, cycling could help to distract you from feeling rotten. There is no medical evidence that exercise helps morning sickness, but getting out in the fresh air and taking your mind off it might help.

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The challenges of cycling when pregnant

As your shape changes to distinctly rotund, you may experience some practical difficulties. You may find it difficult to reach the handlebars around your bump, or your knees may nudge your tummy as you peddle. Making adjustments to your bike by raising the handles and seat can help.

A study by Davara Lee Bennett into cycling during pregnancy found that using wider seats, a more upright position (gained through raising the handlebars) and a step-through frame can make cycling more comfortable. It also found that pregnant women tended to find cycling less tiring than walking.

Your balance may be affected as your centre of gravity shifts, and so you need to take extra care especially when going around corners. Take things slower than you might normally, to be as safe as possible. There is nothing to say that you should stop cycling when pregnant, but obviously you need to learn new limits on what you can do safely. Listen to your body and follow your instincts – your instincts are what will keep your baby safe.

Some weight gain is normal and expected during pregnancy, but this, combined with cycling in a different position to normal (with raised handlebars and seat), may make you prone to saddle sore. If you are new to cycling, you may experience discomfort in your rear anyway and you may wonder how on earth anyone ever cycles without being in constant pain. There are ways to avoid this discomfort, for example:

  • Choose the right saddle for you. This will involve trying out different styles – don’t be afraid to ask to try some out in your local bike shop
  • Invest in some padded cycling shorts. There are even maternity cycling shorts available, that will accommodate your growing bump
  • Ride with your weight on your legs, with your energy going into your peddles, rather than sitting heavily in the saddle this can also make you more stable and less likely to fall
  • You might normally be advised to stand up on the peddles every so often, but it is safer in pregnancy to dismount and walk for a few minutes instead.

As your baby grows, your internal organs will become more cramped. Your lungs will have less room to expand and you may feel breathless. Similarly, you might get aches and pains as your muscles and even bones make way for the baby. Only cycle (or do any other exercise) to the extent that you still feel comfortable – if you begin to feel very breathless or lightheaded, or feel in pain, you need to stop. There are other ways to keep fit and flexible during the later stages of pregnancy that will be easier to tolerate, such as yoga and swimming.

 

Special considerations in pregnancy

Your body is building a baby. That’s an incredible thing and you need to take even more care of your own body than you normally would. Ensure that you have a balanced diet with all the nutrition you need, and take the exercise that you can cope with. You will be more tired than normal: early on, this will be because your body is diverting a lot of energy into your womb to work on helping your baby to develop. Later on, you will find yourself unable to sleep properly (anecdotally, this is your body’s way of preparing you for the lack of sleep you will endure in the coming months when your little one arrives and wants your attention, day and night). Accept that you will have less energy than usual, and adjust your usual level of cycling activity accordingly so as to not over-exert yourself. Perhaps cut out the hills, or reduce the number of cycling journeys you take to work each week.

There are guidelines published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) that set out the best available advice on diet and exercise during pregnancy. The main points are:

There is no actual, evidence-based research that says exactly or even roughly how much weight you should gain during pregnancy. Every woman is different and weight gain during pregnancy can be down to a number of factors, not just increased body fact.
You do not need to eat for two. You don’t need to consume any more calories than normal during the first and second trimesters. During the third trimester you only need about an extra 200 calories (that’s the same as 2 slices of bread).

  • Moderate exercise will not harm your baby.
  • You should do around 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day.
  • If you are not accustomed to regular exercise, start by doing 15 minutes of exercise three times a week and gradually build up to 30 minutes a day.
  • The exercise you do should be for the purpose of staying fit, not to become an athlete!
  • If you are overweight, you should not diet during pregnancy, but your doctor and midwife may need to take extra care of you to minimise any risks to your baby, and you might be referred to a dietician or other health professional to advise you on diet and exercise.

Trust your instincts

The overall message appears to be that as long as you don’t overdo things, take extra care with your balance and only do what you feel comfortable with, cycling can be a good form of exercise during pregnancy. It is often easier to fit into a daily schedule than other forms of exercise, especially if you use your bike as a form of transport to work or to the local shops. Listen to your body, trust your instincts and enjoy your pregnancy.

Please share your own cycling experiences with us below! Do you have any photos of you cycling when pregnant? We’d love to share them and help to inspire more women to cycle when pregnant if they decide that’s the right thing for them.

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