Starting a family brings its fair share of joy and pressure, and making time to ride can be difficult. Women have the extra concern of dealing with changes to their body; here we look at the issues you or your partner may face.
One domain that is exclusive to female cyclists is riding while pregnant, and returning to riding after giving birth. If you have a woman in your life who is facing these issues then you should probably read on to find out what’s going on with her.
For the record, this is not a topic that I’m an expert on because I have not completed any formal training in healthcare or fitness and I’ve never been pregnant, but I’ve researched thoroughly and discussed with a number of women who have firsthand experience for their input.
The most important thing to note is that every woman is different and so everyone needs to make their own decisions about how much to cycle during pregnancy and after having a baby.
RIDING WHILE PREGNANT
SAFETY AND ATTITUDES
It seems that most women don’t feel less safe while riding during pregnancy but they become more aware of hazards. Pip Buchanan said, “I’m not sure about less safe, but your senses are heightened, I was definitely more concerned about falling off! I was also much more aware and concerned about cars on the road, other cyclists, dogs and children running out.”
A few tips
• Make sure you consult your doctor if you are in any doubt about riding while pregnant. Most women who I consulted said they asked first.
• Consider using your indoor trainer or attending cycle classes at the gym instead of riding on the road. Most women who I asked said they gave up riding their bike on the road when they began to feel uncomfortable or unsafe and many switched to indoor sessions.
• Every woman who I asked about racing said they gave up racing when they found out they were pregnant. One inadvertently did a race while pregnant but found she was extremely fatigued.
• Don’t push yourself too hard. Some people recommend that your heart rate should not exceed a certain number of beats per minute, while others use a perceived exertion rate measure. This is a very individual issue, based on the amount you exercised before pregnancy and other factors.
• Use good judgement and reduce intensity, or stop exercise when fatigue sets in and don’t exercise at all if you are feeling ill.
• Consider a higher handlebar height by changing the stem of your bike or even the handlebars themselves, so you’re riding in a more upright position. If you’re uncomfortable on your regular saddle consider switching to a wider one during pregnancy.
• Reduce your overall time in the saddle by going for shorter rides and break your ride into smaller segments so you are resting
• It is critical to stay well hydrated, as dehydration has been associated with premature labour.
• Do what feels right for you and your baby. Don’t let other (even well meaning) people impose their attitudes on you.
RETURNING TO RIDING AFTER GIVING BIRTH
WHEN TO START AGAIN?
Some of the women said they were back riding as early as two weeks but it also depended on the type of delivery. Alison Frendin in her article about returning to riding after baby points out that every woman is different. “Natural, C-section, episiotomy or tearing? Obviously if you had a rough time you aren’t going to be ready at six weeks. Still, stitches should be completely gone and C-section mums must wait double the six week period after having this “major surgery”!”
OTHER ISSUES TO CONSIDER
When returning to riding after giving birth, there are also many issues going on with your body, as outlined by personal trainer Alison Frendin in her article on the subject.
“Currently there are not any specific post natal guidelines on regarding returning to cycling, however most health advisors do not recommend starting vigorous exercise within the first six weeks of having your baby. Naturally, walking is the most recommended exercise after having your baby and is a great way to get your little one to sleep! But getting back on your bike also depends on more than just having clearance from your doctor after your six week check up and waiting for bubba to be asleep!”
Here are a few other factors that Alison cites.
• Core Strength. The core muscles are the deepest of your abdominal muscles. Strengthening these muscles is one of the first steps in returning to exercise after having a baby. A strong core will support your back and posture, your pelvic floor muscles stabilise your hips and torso, give you balance, maintain power from the legs, assist with upper body strength and prevent back pain and injuries.
• Pelvic Floor Weakness – During pregnancy the weight of your baby stretches and weakens your pelvic floor muscles. These exercises should be started as soon as possible, even in the hospital!
• Abdominal Separation – 70 per cent of women experience separation of the Rectus Abdominals Muscles as the baby grows and abdomen expands. This results in a weak core and can lead to lower back damage and a “mummy tummy”.
• Breast Feeding – Intensive exercise affects your milk production. You also need to triple your hydration intake if you are exercising and breastfeeding. You also probably have bigger breasts now so make sure you get a supportive sports bra that fits.
• Sleep Deprivation – Sleep debt isn’t just about feeling tired – it affects your state of mind. Your mood, memory, alertness and vision. You need to be very alert if you are on a road bike or a mountain bike.
• Pelvic Girdle Pain – This is a pregnancy related condition affecting the stability of the joints in the front and rear of your pelvis, (SIJ and Pubic Symphysis) core muscles, abs, glutes and pelvic floor and can extend way beyond pregnancy and last the rest of your lifetime if it is not dealt with by a physiotherapist.
Above all you should do what works for you. Melinda Allen said, “Don’t let what other people can achieve during pregnancy/post birth make you feel inadequate – it is a tough time in the first year, do what you can to keep the right balance. Having said, that, talk to your partner about making your health a priority in that first six months, getting an hour out on the bike can feel amazing and help you get through some of the tough times.”
Kim Stokeld said, “Do what and as much as you feel comfortable with. It’s your decision; it has nothing to do with anyone else.”