Pedaling through Pregnancy
It’s summer and you want to enjoy the outdoors. After all, you belong among the birds and the bees this season and deserve to flit about in the sunshine, too. What? You’re not feeling quite that light on your feet this trimester?
Try biking. Swooping along on your own personal chariot while getting a little healthy exercise is a perfect solution. Biking has the advantages of speed, safety and sheer fun. Plus, it’s low cost, social and doesn’t involve an entrance fee.
But whether you’re a veteran cyclist or are just pulling your cobweb-covered 10-speed out of the garage, biking will present a few special challenges during pregnancy.
Is biking really safe during pregnancy? Non-bikers and urban bikers may rightly be concerned that a two-wheeled excursion that requires balance and a helmet doesn’t seem all that safe. True. If you are not completely comfortable riding a bike, pregnancy is not the time to learn. Try learning in a few years when you can borrow your preschooler’s training wheels. And urban biking is not ideal – pregnant or not – unless you have access to bike paths and are very alert to traffic.
Common sense is your best protection when biking and you will naturally be extra cautious now that you are pregnant. Remember to obey the rules of the road and signal so that cars, other bikers and pedestrians don’t respond unexpectedly. Gear up your bike for safety with a bell, lights, reflectors and a lock, in case you get worn out and simply decide to take public transportation home.
You should also be aware that you’ll really notice how much exercise you’re getting. This is because your body is supplying oxygen and nutrients to your fetus as well – even while you exercise. Your heart and lungs work much harder to make sure your uterus and your muscles get the blood supply they need. The good news is that you get a better workout in less time. And the more consistently you exercise – say, half an hour several times a week – the more you’ll improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Before going biking, check with your doctor to make sure this activity is appropriate for you. Each pregnancy and woman is different. Pregnancy can affect your center of balance, so some women may be told not to bike ride after a certain point in their pregnancy. Consulting your health care provider is recommended.
Studies consistently show that the more fit you become, the more fit your fetus is for labor and delivery. Women who exercise regularly during pregnancy are less likely to have Cesarean deliveries or require other medical interventions (like artificial rupture of membranes or forceps) during delivery. And their babies are less likely to show signs of stress (such as meconium) during labor.
Biking works the big muscle groups in your legs, back and abdomen. In this way, it helps to tone those muscles, and you’ll notice the payoff with improved posture, better back support, less back pain and improved flexibility and strength for delivery.
Working those muscles also helps strengthen your bones and improve blood flow to your legs. The better the blood flow, the less venous congestion in your legs. In the long run, this means fewer varicose veins and less ankle swelling. Women who exercise consistently during pregnancy also report less urine leakage during and after pregnancy, probably because working the big muscle groups also tones the pelvic floor muscles.
Studies show that women who maintain an exercise regimen during pregnancy are more likely to get in shape quickly after delivery – and are even in better shape a year from delivery than they were before pregnancy.
The physiological benefits of exercise during pregnancy, however, are not the main reason to pull out the bike. Cycle to exercise your mind. The fresh air, the escape from the rigors of work, preparation and planning, and the joy of spending time with loved ones is like a delicious mental stretch.
Babies enjoy a good bike ride too! Many women notice that their babies are very active during or right after biking. We know that the rhythms of exercise can be felt inside the uterus – the amniotic fluid gently transmits your body’s movements while also cushioning any bumps in the road. Your baby may respond to this stimulation by becoming unusually active or, the opposite, falling soundly asleep. Plus, as you exercise, your body secretes endorphins, which are natural opiates that improve your mood and sleep and probably make your baby feel well, too.
Cycling is also a great activity to do with friends and family because it doesn’t require a high level of fitness. Let your kids come, as well. Biking is an easy way to explore a new place or to put a fun spin on a trip to the grocery store. Even a newborn can enjoy the gliding feeling of a bike ride and the thrill of the wind in her face.
Ideally, stick to designated bike paths so you won’t have to avoid pedestrians and you are well out of the way of traffic. Even if you’re an avid biker, stay away from big hills during pregnancy and give yourself more time to warm up and cool down on flat terrain.
Stretching your legs and back before getting on your bike helps activate your muscles, too. The period of gently warming up actually gives your body a chance to readjust blood flow to your uterus so that your fetus always has enough oxygen even as you ramp up your workout and start picking up speed. So don’t skip the warm up, even if you only have a short ride ahead.
Adjusting Your Bike to Pregnancy
You’ll probably need to adjust your bike seat and posture for pregnancy. As your belly grows and your center of gravity shifts forward, your position on your bike can put a great deal of strain on your already achy back. Plus, riding with your head low may also contribute to heartburn. Most road bikes force you to lean forward to be more aerodynamic – this just won’t be comfortable during pregnancy.
The bikes that give you the best position during pregnancy are the retro-cruiser bikes with the wide seats and high handlebars. You’ll feel the advantage of the cushy wide seat as soon as you sit on it – your pelvis will appreciate the support. The swept-back handlebars allow you to sit upright, keep your vertebrae aligned and avoid the strenuous arch in your lower back. The fact is that you don’t need a lot of speed and gears. Plus, a stable, comfortable bike will also work well with a baby seat or towing a baby carrier a few months down the road.
If you’re not in the market for a new bike, just adjust your seat and handlebars so that your legs are straight, with your feet comfortably touching the ground when you sit on the seat and your back is straight and relatively upright when you hold onto the handlebars. If you are planning to bike frequently, a supportive new bike seat may be an economical compromise for comfort.
Wear whatever is comfortable when biking – as long as it won’t get stuck in the gears. Long sleeves and pants are a good idea for sun protection. Wear loose layers that you can peel off and store in a bike basket when you warm up.
A sports bra offers some support for your growing breasts and also wicks moisture away from your skin so you don’t get too cool. If your nipples get chaffed bouncing around, try applying some petroleum jelly before you ride and wearing a bra with supportive padding. Bike shorts – with or without extra padding – also can help wick away that extra pregnancy sweat and enhance comfort.
Don’t go anywhere without the helmet. Whether you are headed around the block or onto a dirt road, the bike helmet is an essential part of your gear. The helmet should fit snugly on your head and not move too much when you shake and nod. If your old helmet is damaged, get a new one. Wearing a helmet is a part of setting a good example for your child.
Whether you make it out just once this trimester or fit a little biking into your weekly routine, you’ll reap the benefits of being healthier, taking good care of your pregnancy and indulging in some pleasure cruising.
Top 10 Biking Essentials for Pregnancy
- Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.
- Have a back up plan for getting home if you are worn out.
- Wear layers and be prepared for rapid changes in weather.
- Put on sunscreen: sweat-proof SPF 30.
- Hydrate well before, during and after biking.
- Carry snacks, such as nuts and fruits.
- Take at least a liter of water per hour of exercise.
- Bike with a friend or spouse.
- Avoid riding during the hottest hours of the day.
- Listen to your body to slow down and stop when you get tired.