Biking with a Baby-to-be on Board

Now that’s I’ve told pretty much everyone I know in “real life,” I have some good news to share with you, dear readers – I’m pregnant! It’s our first child and my husband and I are quite excited.

But the worrying started in as soon as I found out. I worry about being a good mom, about not being ready, and about losing my own identity. While it was only a small part of the larger picture, I realized that didn’t want to lose my passion for cycling. The general treatment of pregnant women as delicate flowers, even though they’re preparing to go through one of the most painful experiences around, only reinforced this feeling. I read in a couple of different books and blogs that you shouldn’t cycle when pregnant because “what if you fall?”

Fortunately, there are a lot of other perspectives out there. In general, the medical community agrees that if you biked before pregnancy, it’s okay to keep doing it as long as you’re able to balance on the bike without falling off. Thankfully, my doctor shares that perspective – I might have found a new one if she didn’t.

But the turning point for my confidence was this series of blog posts about biking while pregnant on Simply Bike. Seeing photos of and reading about these fabulous women who kept on cycling with an extra passenger on board made me realize, “I can do that too!” I found something very empowering about the real life examples that I didn’t get from mere approval.

So now I’m writing about my experience to show that you can keep cycling through pregnancy and still have it be enjoyable. Currently, I view it as training for the most challenging endurance race around – labor.

After finding out I was pregnant in September, I kept up my cycling as much as possible. However, I quickly found out that biking while pregnant requires some adjustments. Even if you’re far from showing, your body knows it’s going through tumultuous changes. The best comparison is that being in your first trimester is like a mild – or for some women, bad – case of altitude sickness. There’s even a physiological basis to this metaphor. Just like when you’re at altitude, a pregnant woman’s body is dealing with a imbalance of oxygen compared to its needs. Because it’s working much harder, it actually requires 15 to 20 percent more oxygen than usual, with about half being diverted to the uterus, placenta, and fetus. On a practical basis, this translates to having constant low-level nausea (although other causes definitely contribute), getting out of breath more quickly, and everything taking a little more effort. In particular, I found that strength-based exercises – like more than one flight of stairs – shot my heart rate through the roof.

As a result, I modified my bicycling and expectations to match my body’s new needs. Fortunately, yoga had already taught me to listen to my body better than ever, so I had some practice. Watching my heart rate, I learned to slow down and not push up every hill. I kept reminding myself that bicycling was not a race. I shortened my rides, not starting with the base assumption that I could automatically do 20 miles without a break. I also started preparing better for my rides. I needed to eat regularly to stave off nausea, so packing a snack went from optional to absolutely necessary. While I haven’t biked in D.C. since getting pregnant, I’d probably be even more careful in traffic past my normal paranoia.

My second trimester coincided with the beginning of winter. While I mostly backed off on the outdoor riding, I have put quite a few miles on a stationary bike. In addition, before this cold snap, I got in two rides the last two weekends. The first was a 13 mile ride and the second a ten mile ride, both around parts of the Millennium Trail. Because I hadn’t been outdoors in a while, I learned that as my belly has gotten bigger, my body reacts differently. In particular, riding up hills has become much more challenging. Beyond trying to not get out of breath, pelvic muscles work differently when there’s an extra couple of pounds sitting on top of them. The baby-to-be sinks a bit, made worse by my tendency to lean forward going up hills. To top it all off, the whole process squishes your bladder more than ever. The bumps from tree roots pushing through the pavement do not improve this situation. Needless to say, I was very glad to be able to stop at one of the town’s community centers part-way through the first ride and at the town library on the second. The experience did make me very glad that I never installed drop handlebars – I can’t imagine trying to lean over that far.

I’m going to try to keep riding as long as possible. While I won’t be riding to the hospital while in labor (as I’ve heard one professional cyclist did), I’d like to continue through beginning of my third trimester. In particular, I want to participate in the Tour de Cookie in April, a new ride in Rockville that’s for charity and revolves around one of my favorite cycling destinations – dessert. And being pregnant and on a bike, I’ll have two excuses to eat as many of them as I want!

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15 Responses to Biking with a Baby-to-be on Board

  1. Kevin Ulrich says:

    Congratulations to you and your new family!!! What a great new adventure to begin plus now you get to shop for baby accessories for the bike!

    • Shannon says:

      I know! I’ve already been reading a lot of parenting bike blogs. Unfortunately, it seems like the kid won’t be able to be in a bike seat until he’s probably a year old, but that will be the ideal time to go biking, so it works out well.

  2. Shannon,
    Congratulations! This such an exciting time. You’re very right becoming a mother involves a major reworking of identity. Not in the sense of giving up things that are important to you, but in redefining who you are in the world. You’re also right that staying in shape will help prepare you for labor. And after the baby is born you’ll feel great for many reasons, one being you will get to keep and use all of your oxygen!

  3. Jean says:

    Congratulations, Shannon. Riding into a new phase in life! Wow. Savour your journey now. Life will change forever. Best wishes for healthy pregnancy and birth!

  4. rootchopper says:

    Congratulations on your baby on board! You sound like you have a good grip on the situation. Listen to your body. Use common sense. Being in good physical shape is probably one of the best things you can do for your baby, before and after birth. Keep in mind that all those pregnancy related hormonal changes will eventually reverse. Until they do, your biking muscles will probably not want to fully cooperate with your biking brain. Give it time.

    Best wishes for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

  5. Pingback: Updated This week in the Slacktiverse, January 26th « The Slacktiverse

  6. Congratulations! Your post reminded me of an article I read a while back, which I found again after a quick internet search: I have no experience of cycling while pregnant (or of being pregnant, for that matter) but I think the best thing is to do what makes you feel comfortable and safe – and not what everyone else thinks.

  7. J.A.B. says:

    I had a terrible time adjusting to drop handlebars, partly because a hereditary dowager’s hump made it difficult to hold up my head. It took me at least a year, and I’d never have stuck it out if I’d had another way to get around.

    Nonetheless, I’m far from convinced that you are lucky not to have drop handlebars. When my back hurts so bad that I shouldn’t sit in a chair, a few miles on a drop-handlebar bike are just the thing to loosen it up — if I can get on and off. Back before I learned how to make my own bras, riding a drop-handlebar bike was the only makes-you-breathe-faster exercise I could indulge in — leaning forward takes the weight off my lungs.

    • Shannon says:

      With the drop handlebars in this case, I’m concerned that they would be harder to balance on with my constantly shifting weight distribution. In addition, leaning over is going to get harder and harder the bigger I get, so the more I can avoid of it, the better.

  8. Catherine says:

    Congratulations! And thank you for such an interesting discussion of cycling while pregnant – I’d only really thought of the balance issues, but there is obviously more to consider…

  9. Congratulations! (I’m using the blizzard-induced lull in busy-ness to catch up on everyone’s blogs.)

  10. Shannon says:

    Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments and congrats!

  11. Pingback: Guest Post on Simply Bike on Cycling While Pregnant | Will Bike for Change (or Pie!)

  12. Pingback: Past Reflections on Pedaling while Pregnant | We'll Eat You Up - We Love You So

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