Cycling safety in the first trimester
Cycling is a great way to get exercise during pregnancy. Peddling is great for circulation, and it increases cardiovascular fitness, and muscle strength and flexibility. But when you have a baby on the way, road cycling ranks among one of the more hazardous methods of keeping fit, along with horse riding and gymnastics.
However, it’s important to stay active during pregnancy, so it’s necessary to weigh the physical benefits of the exercise with the risk factor. Here we look at some issues to be wary of while on your bike as well as how to continue cycling safely.
As always, talking to your doctor or midwife about cycling in pregnancy is probably the best way to make an informed decision about whether or not you should take up or continue biking. So, when you find out you’re pregnant, try to make some time to discuss your existing exercise routine, as well as any new forms of exercise you intend to take up.
Problems of cycling in the first trimester
Every pregnant woman is unique, but in your first trimester, it’s possible that you will be dealing with symptoms such as ‘morning sickness’ and tiredness. If you are still attempting to make regular cycling journeys outside, you may need to think again.
Fatigue is a very common symptom in the first trimester, with some women feeling constantly tired. The nausea, and vomiting that can accompany it, will contribute to the feeling of being absolutely drained. In this case, cycling can quickly become very difficult, possibly leading to exhaustion. For the same reasons that you shouldn’t drive a car while tired, riding your bike with low energy is just as dangerous, potentially leading to an accident.
Do not attempt to cycle if you don’t feel up to it – taking the bus or getting a lift from a friend won’t be the end of the earth – but cycling while fatigued could have horrible consequences.
If you do decide to cycle, safety precautions are an essential (to protect you and your baby); wear a snug-fitting cycle helmet and a high-vis jacket, and make sure your bike is fitted with appropriate lights and reflectors – even if you only cycle during the day.
Cycling for pregnancy fitness
If you decide that you’re happy to take to your bike while pregnant, you should try not to push yourself too hard. Cycling at high intensity is a sure fire way of using available energy quickly. Pregnancy isn’t the time to beat your personal best times or cycle the furthest distance. Instead, your priority should be to remain comfortable. Simply keeping yourself active is enough when you’re pregnant, so there is no need for you to set yourself any hard-to-reach fitness targets.
One of the biggest worries for pregnant women when exercising is the possibility of overheating and dehydration. In your first trimester, these factors can potentially cause problems for your developing baby, so you must have a bottle of water with you at all times so that you can take frequent sips and take regular breaks so that you can cool down.
It’s as easy as falling of a bike
If you are cycling on a gym bike, then your chances of taking a tumble are kept to a minimum, but if you are cycling outside then there is always the risk of being knocked off or taking a tumble onto the hard floor.
Because your baby is only at the very early stage of development in the first trimester, your weight shouldn’t have changed that much, so your centre of gravity will still be the same and cycling won’t be too difficult. Your uterus will still be tucked behind the pelvic bone, which gives the embryo/foetus extra protection, so cycling in the first trimester is when the problems related to minor falls are at their lowest. If you’re an experienced rider, you should be fine to carry on biking.
But, be warned: as you enter your second trimester, by week 13, your baby will begin to grow surprisingly quickly (this is when your belly begins to expand and other people may start to notice that you’re pregnant). Road cycling will soon become more difficult and more risky.
If you do suffer a fall while on a bike ride, it’s important not to panic. Yes, there is still a risk, and serious falls may damage the baby. But remember that your body is well prepared to protect your future child. Shock-absorbent amniotic fluid, membranes, and the thick muscles of the uterus are all protecting your baby. If you are worried about the health of your baby after falling, or if you feel pain in your abdomen, uterus, or pelvis and are experiencing vaginal bleeding, then seek urgent medical care.
The chance of falling is the reason why off-road cycling is not recommended at any stage of your pregnancy, regardless of your experience level. Travelling over rough terrain will cause uncomfortable bumps and jolts for you and your baby, and it will increase the risk of taking a tumble.
Veteran cyclists versus beginners
It’s probably not advisable for pregnant women to take up road cycling if they haven’t done so for years.
If you are already a dedicated cyclist, then the bottom line is that it’s probably OK to continue through your first trimester and probably into your second. Consult your GP or midwife about your cycling programme as any other health issues you experience through your pregnancy could mean that cycling becomes a no-no.
What to do if the cycling craving is too strong
If you’ve never cycled outside before, then an exercise bike could be just what you need. Exercise bikes are largely thought to be safe at any stage of your pregnancy, but (as always) check with your GP or midwife just to be certain.
Buying an exercise bike means you can do all your exercise in the comfort of your own home, or you can go to the gym. Make sure exercise levels are suitable and adjusting the saddle and handlebars to reduce lower back pressure.
Remember that although the risk of falling is reduced on a stationary bike, the danger of overheating is still there. So fill up the water bottle before getting going.
And if being on an upright bike starts to get too much for you, most gyms have recumbent bikes which mean you can lay down while still peddling and reaping all the benefits for you circulation.