Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Riding during pregnancy
Bike riding can help maintain your wellbeing during pregnancy
Is it safe to ride a bike with a baby in your belly? Cycling education guru and mother Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells investigates.
It's widely accepted that regular physical activity is highly beneficial for mums-to-be.
According to Active & pregnant, a guide produced by VICFIT and the Royal Women's Hospital, a sensible pattern of exercise can help maintain wellbeing during the pregnancy, help prepare the body for labour and help in recovery from the birth.
Glenys Janssen, midwife at the Royal Women's Hospital Childbirth Education and Training Department, encourages exercise, citing multiple benefits.
"It also helps you feel good about yourself, and it might help control weight."
The rate of diabetes in pregnancy is increasing dramatically, she says, largely because more women are overweight.
"You're much less likely to get diabetes, and you're more able to control it if you're exercising regularly."
Glenys says that while some people worry that exercise could cause a miscarriage or damage to the baby, no studies have shown any negative effects of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise in a normal, healthy pregnancy.
"If you have complications, such as a multiple birth, or high blood pressure, you wouldn't do exercise," she says. "Or you would only to do it in consultation with a doctor and physiotherapist."
For women with normal pregnancies, moderate-intensity is key. Fiona Cooper, health educator and former midwife recommends cycling to help women build up their endurance for labour, but cautions against riding too strenuously.
Staying cool and maintaining the body's water balance is important. "It's the same as the SunSmart message - take a water bottle and ride at times where you're not out in the heat," Fiona says.
Glenys Janssen says that nausea can be quite debilitating. "If you're feeling tired or you don't feel like exercising on a particular day, give it a rest. It's very physically demanding being pregnant."
The Active & pregnant guide stresses that every pregnancy is different: "The pattern of exercise which works well for someone you know may not be the right one for you. Choose exercise to suit your own level of fitness [and] your lifestyle. If you decide not to exercise, this is a perfectly reasonable decision. Give yourself permission to slow down or not to exercise at any time."
Precautions during pregnancy
- Avoid getting too hot
- Drink more water than usual
- Don't push yourself (pulse shouldn't exceed 140 bpm)
- Don't get fatigued
- Avoid falls
- Don't exercise if you feel ill
- Stop if you get dizzy, pain, headaches or short of breath.
After the birth of her son Lucas, Kathy Brunning decided she wanted to be fitter. "I wasn't particularly fit the first time around, and I wanted to get myself really fit for baby number two." When Lucas was two, she took on the challenge of riding Around the Bay in a Day.
Some time afterwards, she became pregnant with Callum. This time, she says, she felt much fitter and kept riding until the last few weeks of the pregnancy. Riding felt good, and helped to relieve the queasiness in her tummy and, later in the pregnancy, helped her aching legs.
Kathy Brunning also believes her recovery was much quicker because she was fitter. "I was also smaller [the second time] because I didn't put on excess weight."
Deb Chambers rode competitively before she became pregnant, typically riding 400km a week. During pregnancy she eased back on the intensity. "I used a heart rate monitor to make sure I didn't go above 140 beats per minute. "I stopped going up hills, or I just took it slowly."
At six months, Deb rode shorter distances, and raised the handlebars to ride in a more upright position. "At the end it was easier to ride than walk, because the bike supports your weight," she says. "But the best thing was I think it really helped my labour and recovery."
Not everyone has such an easy time. Megan McDonald, who was very active before pregnancy, had bad nausea. "I rode to work for the first few weeks, but when the nausea started, I'd be doubled over dry retching in the sink when I arrived. I don't know if riding actually made it worse, but it was one more thing to worry about, so I stopped."
Megan believes it's important not to have big expectations. "You might plan to keep riding right through pregnancy," she says, "but things don't always go to plan. You have to listen to your body and do what's right for you."
Tell me more about women's fitness issues including premenstrual syndrome, menopause, osteoporosis and contraception.