Saturday, May 30, 2009

Baby on Board: Pregnancy and bicycle commuting

Image of a pregnant cyclist in Copenhagen
The following was edited out of the manuscript of my book, The Bike to Work Guide: What You Need to Know to Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit. The question of bicycle commuting while pregnant has come up occasionally from site readers. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

While pregnancy is undoubtedly a time when women need to pay close attention to their bodies and use some caution in their physical exertion, it’s a complete myth that pregnant women shouldn't exercise and continue healthy activities they enjoy. Safe exercise throughout pregnancy offers many benefits to both expectant mother and child, including increased blood flow, greater oxygen delivery, stress reduction, endorphins, improved mood. Maintaining physical fitness improves a woman's stamina during delivery and speeds postnatal recovery. If you can continue to work during your pregnancy, you can make your trip to work by bicycle.

Bicycle commuting can be a particularly healthy activity for expectant mothers, even up to the week before giving birth. Of all the exercises a pregnant woman might choose, cycling is among the best because of its smooth motion and it doesn’t require lifting, jumping, or sudden stops. The level of exertion can be varied, making it easy for a cyclist to lower the intensity of her riding as her pregnancy progresses. Possibly the only physical activity more suitable for pregnant women would have to be swimming.

Before embarking on any exercise during pregnancy, it’s important to consult with your obstetrician or midwife. Your caregiver should be completely involved in helping you design an exercise regimen that will be to your benefit. As long as your pregnancy progresses normally and you have no prior health concerns (such as a history of problems during pregnancy), a caregiver may encourage you to stay active with moderate exercise such as bicycle commuting.

The key to any exercise during pregnancy is not to overdo it. It’s fine to exercise as often as you normally would, but it’s best to keep the intensity level slightly lower than usual. For instance, while you may normally aim to keep your heart rate at between 70 and 80 percent of maximum while exercising, during pregnancy it’s best to keep it between 60 and 70 percent. Be sure to drink lots of fluids, take frequent breaks when pedaling, and avoid overheating.

Continue to be cautious when returning to biking after giving birth. While you’ll no longer be riding for two, you still need to keep your body well nourished, especially if you plan to breastfeed. Don’t be in too much of a rush to lose the extra weight you may have gained over the past months--it will come off steadily if you eat properly and continue cycling.

Your suggestions for happy bicycle commuting while pregnant?

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Can pregnant women safely ride bicycles, San Francisco Chronicle
Visit: Pedaling Pregnant, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Visit: Bicycling and Pregnancy, American Pregnancy Association
Visit: Biking with a bump: Should you ride while pregnant?, BikePortland.org
Visit: Preggo Velo, Tot Cycle Family Cycling
Visit: Riding while pregnant, MotherNature.com
Visit: Bicycle travel, with kids too!, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Bicycling Safety Considerations for Women
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

27 comments:

dr2chase said...

Perhaps it is just coincidence, but two biking blogs had babies just last week:

Car Free With KidsGirls and Bicycles

Trisha said...

Great post. I can't believe it was edited from the manuscript! I too was about to mention Miss Sarah of Girls and Bicycles -- her posts on riding while pregnant are inspiring.

BeFit-Mom said...

Too bad your article did not include the most important aspect of riding a bike while pregnant: WEAR A HELMET!!!

Your photo shows a very pregnant woman without one.

kurisu said...

Wear a helmet.

Paul Dorn said...

The best thing you can say about helmets is they mitigate the consequences of a crash, they don't prevent a crash. I prefer to reduce crash potential by advocating for better road design (Complete Streets), increased numbers of cyclists, and by encouraging people to improve their cycling skills.

As Yehuda Moon suggests, the most dangerous thing on the streets are cars. That danger isn't reduced by making cyclists wear styrofoam hats.

I always prefer to emphasize the fun of cycling, not the risks. Bicycling is not without risks, but it's not dangerous.

dr2chase said...

I hesitate to start a pro/anti helmet flame war, but I think the advice to a pregnant woman to wear a helmet while cycling (and not also while driving a car) is misplaced.

First, on an hourly basis, cycling is safer than driving. So if you are not also giving her the advice to wear a helmet while driving a car, you are not giving her the best advice. Why single out bicycles for special safety cautions?

Second, pregnancy is not without its own risks -- a maternal mortality rate of 8 per 100,000, means that a pregnancy is about as dangerous as 300 hours of cycling (using the estimate linked to above). Wearing a helmet is not going to make a big change in a pregnant woman's risks.

K8 said...

Glad to see this post!

I rode up until a week before I gave birth and it was a great time. I got so sick of feeling slow and heavy and getting on my bike was a way to feel healthy, free and Fast. I did find I had to keep my rides shorter as my normally comfortable seat wasn't as comfortable as usual. But really it was wonderful.

Don't believe people who try to tell you it's not possible. I heard a whole lot of junk about my balance becoming uncontrollable and it being unsafe - hogwash. You learn to ride a bike at five, more than twenty years later it's not that difficult to make the necessary adjustments. My baby was born very healthy with a strong heart and I credit a lot of that to staying active on my bike.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice Paul and it is no wonder why most VC advocates can so easily ignore the responsibilities that come with caring for another life. We need Complete Streets and friendlier-safer routes for the health of our wives and children.

It's really discouraging to see how tax funded organizations like MoDOT is working to discourage healthier lifestyles by lobbying against Complete Streets. Clearly they care more about uninterrupted speeding than healthy taxpayers. It's no wonder why the perfect storm is coming.
Jack

http://mobikefed.org/2009/05/modot-lobbying-comes-under-fire-modot.php

SubComandante Sasquatch said...

Clearly, the message of the above photo is that forgetting your helmet causes pregnancy.

GhostRider said...

How timely...my wife and I were JUST talking about this moments ago. She's a hardcore commuter and is also 4 months pregnant.

Her coworkers look at her like she's crazy for riding while pregnant. The fact of the matter is, nothing could be better for mom (and baby) than staying healthy and active!

suz said...

Just stumbled across this, hope it's not too late to comment.

I'm ~5-1/2 months preg, (24 weeks) and still riding just fine. I commute to work (20 miles RT) ~3 times/ wk and ride 30-55 miles most wknd days. Still riding my road race machine with no modifications (tho i think we might flip the stem soon to make the bars a bit higher.) No balance problems yet. I think riding has really helped me control the weight gain (only 11 pounds so far, which my doc says is great) and has helped me feel better and have a more positive body image, and an easy pregnancy. I'm an experienced road racer, so that helps. I don't know that i would advise a total newb to ride this far into pregnancy. But i suppose thos reading this blog are not newbs...

And yes, i always wear a helmet. :-)

Annie said...

i am a newb cyclist & commuter, hoping to be pregnant (going through fertility treament) and i'm a bit worried as i'm new to cycling that i am at a higher risk of a fall.. so i'm thinking of riding for the first trimester, but possbly not after 14 weeks, depending on what the Ob says of course... interested on views of newb's continuing to ride whilst pregnant.

having kids is actually what got me riding - i want to have kids who are into bikes, not cars!

dr2chase said...

Annie, my wife, who is not a newb cyclist, but is certainly not a street warrior, biked certainly into the 8th month (this was years ago).

The one bit of advice that is invariant across all the OB/GYNs we have ever known (or heard of from friends) is not to overheat (in particular, no hot tubs, is what I recall).

I think, if you bike steadily through your pregnancy, that balance is not going to be that much of an issue. You will gradually gain weight, so there are no surprises there. (I ride around on a cargo bike, you can adapt to some pretty weird distributions of weight surprisingly quickly.)

You probably want to be sure that you are sitting relatively upright, both because your back will get unhappy near the end, and also because you are more susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome when pregnant, so you want to plan for a light load on your hands. Avoid "mountain bike" (straight) bars as much as possible, those are bad for your hands. So, start upright now, so you do not need to change later. The more familiar you are with the bike and the routes that you ride, the safer it will be.

Annie said...

hey dr2chase, thanks for the advice :D puts my mind at rest a fair bit!

i will b mainly on cycle paths, so i guess its the wobble factor i was worried about, as opposed to contact with a car. hopefully i will adjust!

will make sure i get down the bike shop & get some panniers - its my rucksack that makes me hottest.

i have a hybrid so pretty upright,but will have a think about handle bars - already have mild carpal tunnel from typing.

infra said...

Do you enjoy riding your bike to work? How can your city better accommodate your cycling needs? Share your commuting experience today at www.infrastructureusa.org, and make your voice heard about infrastructure issues relevant to you.

Rachel said...

I did some light commuting while pregnant (never more than 5 miles in a go, never at very fast speeds, never up very steep hills). People were so worried, but really there was nothing to worry about! I felt comfortable with my ability to balance and never, ever fell. The only difficulty I faced was having to stick my knees out a bit sideways when my belly started to get really big, but I was still riding up until a few weeks before I gave birth too!
I also had a fairly upright ride, I don't think I would have fared too well on a bike with traditional geometry and drop handlebars, but that's kind of obvious!

The only other thing I can think that may be a problem is overheating in the summer, but that's just as easy to do with any other activity out in the heat, and a pregnant mama is going to know right away when she starts to overheat because she'll be pretty miserable!

I agree, bicycling while pregnant is excellent exercise and if more woman did it, the general public may not be so squeamish about it anymore.



The real dilemma I faced was after my baby was born. I could not think of any safe way to transport a newborn on a bicycle (I did worry about falling with a baby strapped to my chest because it wouldn't have the same protections it did in the womb, also there's no way to put a helmet on a newborn, and a trailer would have been far to bumpy), plus I was not in a very good state for much physical activity for several months postpartum... so I had to go back to the car until the following spring.
But pregnant? No problem!

workbike said...

Great advice: what a shame it was cut out of the book. Good to see well balanced thoughts on helmets too.

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Trainsharp Cycle Coaching said...

A Little dangerous if you ask me but sticking to the cycle lanes should be OK.

Alinia said...

I'm 8 months pregnant with my second and still biking (with a helmet :). With the first one I switched to a trike in the last month and was riding it the morning I went into labor. I just recently switched this time from my normal bike to a friend's bike that is much more upright so my decreased lung capacity is not decreased further by leaning over to the handle bars. I still ride to my carpool buddy's house, the grocery store, and anywhere in town that I can. Labor is so much easier if you have a reasonable amount of fitness...

Alinia said...

And one more thing -- our first son took his first "bike ride" at 18 days. Strapped into the car seat and then strapped into the burley d'lite with the lap belt. Probably safer than in the car, and no more jostling over the potholes than going on the freeway. He also reliably slept when we biked, but would cry in the car...

strfsh said...

For newb women who are worried about falling while riding (most of my scrapes have been utterly silly, "oops I forgot I have to get off the bike"; none recently), there's always the option of a Trike! No wobble potential.

http://www.bikecare.co.uk/adult_tricycles.html
http://www.walmart.com/ip/Schwinn-Meridian-Tricycle/5679542

Not that I think that riding a regular bicycle is a problem either, but cycles do come in many shapes and sizes:

http://www.ski-epic.com/amsterdam_bicycles/

Elaine said...

Hi I am due to give birth this week and am still cycling to work - about 13km per day - in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, morning and evening. I did a 28km cycle two weeks ago (at 37 weeks) in the midday sun, though I did take it very easy. I find it strange that so many people are shocked about this, sometimes I even feel like I am being irresponsible or something because of the comments I am getting. I think its because other people don't consider cycling a "normal" thing to do anyway so they get doubly shocked if you cycle when you are pregnant. No one says you shouldn't drive a car or walk or take a crowded bus when pregnant. I am sure they mean well but I don't think it is good for me or any pregnant woman to be made to feel like an invalid or something.

Wild said...

Check out a whole series of biking while pregnant at Simply Bike. She was biking even at 38 weeks!
http://simplybikeblog.com/?cat=11

Anonymous said...

I rode my bike until one day before birth while I was pregnant with both kids. In Germany no one bats an eyelid - it is considered completely normal. Riding a bike is far easier and more comfortable than walking!

Allyson Cho said...

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Just a personal story--I was struck by a car while I was crossing a (very safe) street in a (supposedly safe) bike lane. Adequate traffic signals all around. I rolled over the hood of the car and then struck the pavement with my head. The helmet cracked in two. My skull didn't. So I think your take on pregnant women and helmets is a little...odd. Just something to think about--with all the fat and amniotic fluid, one's baby is probably better protected from a fall than one's helmet-less brain. I came to this blog for lucid information about bike commuting while pregnant (I've been driving my SUV everywhere since getting pregnant). Your take on helmets makes me reconsider the validity of your advocating continuing to cycle while pregnant, so I think I may continue to drive until I get advice from a professional.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your posts, everyone. I am currently 26 weeks pregnant and am starting to get lots of negative comments from people about how I should not be biking to work (which is only 3km) anymore and that I might hurt the baby or fall. I feel great on my bike and have no trouble with my balance at all. I have had to stop running in the past few weeks which was hard so biking is allowing me to continue to feel active, healthy and strong. Not to mention I can still get to work so much more quickly by cycling than by walking (during which I often feel tried and sluggish) or by taking the bus. I feel like my speed has slowed and I definitely get winded more easily these days but I am okay with that! Your blog gave me reassurance and support for continuing my current lifestyle while pregant.