The Bike Madame

The Pregnant Lady Express: The Final Frontier…Um, Trimester

The group of touring cyclists passes me at the bottom of my favorite three- mile hill. As the hill steepens, I expect to catch up, as I usually do, for I know this hill well. It’s tempting to put a sign on my back saying, “You’ve just been passed by the pregnant lady express,”  but such pride could invite disaster, such as getting passed en masse by rac- ers in gorilla suits.

The decision of whether or not to keep riding into late pregnancy is an individual one and should be made on the basis of how you feel and what your health-care provider recommends, neither of which a newspaper column can predict. In the third trimester, your passenger is more exposed to the world than ever, and that includes your handlebars, the road surface, and anything else you’d hit in case you had an accident. Risks you’re willing to take under other circumstances should be reevaluated in light of the safety of your offspring, which is why I wouldn’t be rid- ing at this time if I lived in a city and had to mingle with traffic.

Equipment makes a difference too. My folding bike gives me an upright seating position, like a cruiser, so my belly doesn’t get in the way of pedal- ing. This is even less of an issue on our recumbent tandem. Neither of these setups compromises my balance. If you want to keep riding but find yourself getting in your own way, consider switching to a steed with a more relaxed seating posture and that does not compromise your balance (definitely not a racing-style bike). With the added weight of your little one, what was once slight exertion can cause shortness of breath. I stick with the rule that if I can talk to my husband  and co-rider, I’m not working too hard. You might also notice practice (Braxton-Hicks) contractions while exercising (cycling or otherwise). For me, if they persist, I rest, drink water, and wait for them to subside.

They can appear from exertion or dehydration (to which mothers-to-be are susceptible), as well as from the uterus’ efforts to stay toned before birth, but you don’t want them to develop into early labor. Again, please talk with your healthcare provider about your unique circumstances; mine go away after a short rest, but yours could behave differently. It’s essential to stay aware of what your body’s doing so you know when to take a break. If you’ve been active before pregnancy, you probably have a good idea of your limits, but you’ll need to adjust your expectations to your changing state, with your provider as guide and sounding board. If you and your provider decide you should put your bike away for now, don’t worry: walking is a superb form of exercise you can continue until you’re ready to give birth, as long as your provider agrees that this is safe.

Staying active (even if you can’t do it throughout the pregnancy) has been demonstrated to lead to shorter labor times, reduced discomfort in labor, and fewer interventions—as well as babies who are more easily soothed and more interested in their environment (and hence learn more readily). When you’re ready to return to physical activity after the birth, you may end up becoming fitter than you were before pregnancy—hauling that extra weight can turn you into IronMom, and folks trying to pass you on a three-mile hill had better beware.