Lest the subtitle “internal passengers” conjure up visions of beneficial intestinal bacteria pushing microscopic pedals with their cilia, let me clarify: I mean human offspring who have not yet emerged from the cushy safety of the womb. For the past four and a half months, I have experienced the ups and downs of cycling for two and am ready to share my wisdom-in-progress with anybody considering a partnership of bike and baby-to-come.
Please do not take my ideas for medical advice. The decision whether to continue cycling while pregnant is a joint one between you and your health-care provider. If you’re uncomfortable, fatigued, or otherwise feel worse from riding, don’t force yourself even if your provider has given you the green light. The third trimester is particularly concerning, as your front-heaviness can unbalance you and the baby’s less protected in case of a fall. That’s why some providers suggest you stop riding as you approach your due date.
Fatigue is a common concern, particularly the in first trimester. If you’re a competitive cyclist or just like to challenge your physiological limits, you’ll have some adjusting to do. You want to find a level of intensity where you can hold a conversation with a fellow rider and don’t get out of breath. This may feel like a casual weekend amble, but burning calories isn’t in your best interests or the baby’s. Take your time with hill-climbing. Does your steed have a good “granny gear”? This is a good time to swap the fixie—temporarily—for a multi-gear ride.
As you get heavier in front, you may develop discomfort in the abdominal muscles (which are stretching to accommodate your girth), and pedaling can aggravate this. Now in the second trimester, I find my recumbent bike more comfortable than my upright bike, as I’m in a relaxed position with my back supported and I don’t have to hike my legs so high. You may have to adjust your seat and headset to find a comfortable position. If you’re finding it difficult to stay balanced, consider an adult tricycle. Recumbent tricycles look cool and don’t shout “old lady.”
While fatigue, increased bulkiness, and difficulty balancing are common concerns, miscellaneous peculiar symptoms may also provide you with unexpected hurdles. Most expectant mothers develop a keen sense of smell early in the pregnancy (this might even be your “giveaway” of your condition prior to the missed period). This transforms the flatulence of smelly trucks from an annoyance to a struggle against revisiting the contents of one’s stomach, and I won’t even mention other stinky objects one encounters on the road. Temperature-regulation weirdness can cause you to swim in sweat one moment and freeze the next, so bring layers. Some of us experience a decline in visual acuity. If you’ve noticed a change in your vision, get an eye exam and possibly new glasses or contacts. It’s even more essential now to glimpse upcoming road hazards and avoid falls and collisions.
For as long as you’re comfortable and you and your offspring are safe doing it, cycling is a superb way to retain the stamina, strength, and flexibility you’ll need for giving birth. Just don’t start riding while pregnant if you haven’t hopped on a bike since you were twelve. Wait until after your little passenger is out in the world before you try riding off that post-pregnancy paunch—when your health-care provider (and your own comfort) gives you the “okay.”