Cycling Through Pregnancy

By Charlotte Murray

One thing is certain when you’re pregnant, and that’s that everyone has an opinion. The bottom line, however, is that cycling is safe, and as a low-impact exercise with very little load bearing, it’s an effective way to keep active.

The NHS states: “Exercise is not dangerous for your baby. There is some evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour.” All the rules that we *should* follow whilst exercising but occasionally ignore stand especially true during pregnancy. You should ride a bike that fits you well, stay hydrated and don’t fall off! Overexertion and overheating are two things to avoid but other than that, cycling has an array of benefits to the pregnant woman.

Ultimately, however, the decision is a personal one but, of course, it helps to have a little insight. Ceci, a cyclist living in the Lake District, shared her experience of continuing riding off-road throughout her pregnancy.

Pregnant woman cycling
Ceci 35 weeks into her pregnancy.

What was the biggest thing you noticed about cycling whilst pregnant?

“Initially, I was surprised how it made very little difference at all! I definitely felt more vulnerable on the roads, so with time, all my riding became off-road. I feel like I can’t trust the traffic, which is a shame.

“After a while, I experienced breathlessness and it took an increased amount of effort to drag myself up climbs. Afterwards, I felt a lot more washed out. Despite this, I felt more empowered than usual and felt a bit of a badass out hitting the trails with a group of awesome women, all whilst growing a human! And, in fact, riding a bike has now become more comfortable than walking.

“Towards the end of my pregnancy, I’ve stuck to the pregnancy-specific workouts designed by Dani King and Kristin Armstrong on Zwift and they feel really achievable.

“I feel like the whole experience has helped me prepare mentally for the birth. I figured if I can climb hills on the bike or face a tough bit of lumpy trail on my gravel bike (let’s face it, both of which sometimes feel impossible) then I should be much stronger mentally for the challenge of birthing a baby. I know what it feels like to push myself to my physical limits.”

What kind of adjustments did you make to your cycling?

“Firstly, I reduced my expectations. I was less goal-oriented and rode based on how I felt and I celebrated all of my achievements, big and small. Early on in my pregnancy when I was feeling pretty good, I was able to continue largely as normal. But as the load I was carrying became heavier, I found I needed more breaks to snack and get my breath back. This worked well when riding with the local gravel group (Lakes Gravel Gang) as we tended to stop for a chat at every gate!

“Eventually, I had to flip my stem and add an extra spacer to create more space for the bump. There were points during the pregnancy when riding felt really uncomfortable in my lower belly on my gravel bike as things expanded. But then the next week, I’d feel fine again. Discomfort definitely came in fits and starts throughout.

“I walked any bits of the trail that I didn’t feel confident enough to ride to reduce the risk of falling off. At this point, flat pedals may have been a good idea as there were a few occasions I couldn’t unclip fast enough!”

What about the gear? Are cycling clothes for pregnant women few and far between?

“I am lucky that my bibs still just fit (at 39 weeks now!) and this is the only piece of kit that I find non-negotiable – Lycra has its benefits! I did, however, find it hard when my bump outgrew my waterproofs – especially for the Lake District, which gets more than its fair share of rain. To resolve this, I bought a second-hand Gore-Tex jacket 2 sizes up on eBay, which has lasted to the end but it’s not an ideal solution!

“Brands have a long way to go to provide technical and practical clothing for pregnant women that want to maintain an outdoor/active lifestyle, as there is next to nothing available at present. Clothing that could be adapted and still meets technical requirements to stop you from getting cold and wet as an offering from major technical outdoor brands would be a great help. For example, Alpkit offered to make a custom zip-in panel for my waterproofs but it’s not freely available to the public.”

What are your top 3 tips for someone who’s considering cycling through their pregnancy?

“Be proud of what you achieve, however big or small. It’s pretty badass to be growing a human with whatever physical activity you manage!

“If you hit a point where riding becomes difficult or uncomfortable, don’t see it as the endpoint and give up, instead revisit in a week or so. I found my comfort and fatigue levels could vary day-to-day and week-to-week but I managed to ride right up until the end with a few adaptations. This kept me sane when walking became increasingly uncomfortable.

“Try an e-bike! I hired an e-MTB at 35 weeks so I could join in with a group ride outside as a bit of a last hurrah. It made what would have been impossible on my own bike very achievable. Turbo mode is pretty epic!”

Ceci’s experience of cycling whilst pregnant is, of course, only one experience. Everyone’s will be different. Ultimately, you know how you feel, and what kind of activity level you did prior to your pregnancy. So this might reflect how you feel throughout – or it might not! Listen to your body, and don’t be afraid to give the turbo trainer or an e-bike a go if you haven’t ventured that way yet.