Nine different women cyclists share their very different experiences of cycling after they became pregnant. Some are mountain bikers, some are commuters, and some are avid road cyclists, but all are keen cyclists and riding a bike is a central part of their lives.
Cycling and pregnancy throws up a lot of opinion, advice, and judgement. Medical advice is that cycling while pregnant is fine, so long as the woman is careful not to over-exert herself or over-heat.
An experienced cyclist is no more likely to fall off a bike while pregnant than they were before they were pregnant, and in fact exercising during pregnancy has a lot of benefits for both mother and foetus.
But what is it actually like? How does it feel, and how has cycling during pregnancy affected different women? We speak to a range of women who share their experiences of the impact pregnancy has had on their two-wheeled life.
Commuter, mountain biker, roadie and cyclocrosser. Mother of two girls, aged two and three
Fiona Spotswood appreciated having a supportive midwife as she cycled throughout her pregnancy Fiona Spotswood
“The morning I found out I was pregnant I had a meeting at work that I absolutely could not miss. After leaping excitedly around the flat with my husband, giggling and repeating ‘oh my gosh’, or words to that effect, I had to snap out of it and get to the office.
My amazingly supportive midwife said she’d never had a client cycle to their 38 week midwife appointment before!
“That meant cycling.
“In the usual skinny jeans and badly-ironed shirt, I didn’t look pregnant, and half an hour beforehand, I hadn’t known I was. But every bump and jolt on the bike that morning was horrific. I was genuinely concerned I would shake out my unborn progeny.
“But cycling the 20 minutes to work cleared my head, and I carried on commuting all the way through my pregnancy, even enjoying a few longer leisure rides on my more upright commuter bike.
“My amazingly supportive midwife said she’d never had a client cycle to their 38 week midwife appointment before! I didn’t mountain bike in that pregnancy. It just didn’t feel right. But in the second [pregnancy] I did a little bit and needed the headspace now there was a toddler around!”
Mountain biker, roadie, cyclocrosser and triathlete. Mother of a two-year-old daughter
Carla Tonks enjoyed the continued feeling for freedom cycling brought her Carla Tonks
“If I was physically able and felt safe doing so I really wanted to keep cycling during my pregnancy (along with other sports I was doing such as running and swimming).
I had long given up running as it just didn’t ‘feel right’, so it was lovely to have a sport that I felt good doing
“The first trimester I kept road and mountain biking — just at a lower intensity than normal — and felt comfortable doing so. As my bump began to grow, so did my fears of riding on the road next to cars, and comfort-wise the road bike wasn’t too great either! So I found myself naturally transitioning to mountain biking.
“I kept to the easy trails as I didn’t want to risk falling, but loved the continued feeling of freedom cycling gave me.
“I had long given up running as it just didn’t ‘feel right’, so it was lovely to have a sport that I felt good doing. After around 32 weeks I just didn’t feel comfortable anymore outdoors on the bike so decided to keep to swimming and the odd spin class — with the handlebars set up very high!”
Roadie and triathlete. Mother of two girls, aged two and three
“All throughout my first pregnancy I went to spin classes and was curious how my body would work. I felt a bit at risk outdoors but carried on doing a bit of road cycling, just being careful to choose my routes carefully. As the pregnancy progressed, I just increased height of handlebars in spin classes and rode like a clown. I definitely got sweaty.
Cycling is still a big part of the way I try and achieve balance
“Naughtily, I didn’t always let the instructor know my ‘condition’ in case they made me slow down! But I listened to my body and kept an eye on my heart rate monitor.
“At about 30 weeks, I made a good friend who was also mad enough to be cycling at that point, although had dropped the bib shorts. I hadn’t… I found bib shorts fit brilliantly around the bump.
“This same friend became my cycle buddy once our babies had arrived. The cycling had a profound effect on my positive wellbeing. I have fond memories of hand-expressing behind various outbuildings during an Audax, whilst eating amazing WI cakes.
“I only spotted my second pregnancy after a surprisingly poor performance at a criterium race. I lay in bed frustrated at my poor performance, then thought to take the test. When that second blue line turned up I was relieved to have an answer as to why the race had gone so badly. During that second pregnancy I still carried on riding, even securing my velodrome accreditation.
“Cycling is still a big part of the way I try and achieve balance. I’ve broken no records, I haven’t won any races, but I’ve kept my sanity and for me that’s a win!”
Roadie and ex-Ironman professional athlete. Mother of a two-year-old daughter
Chrissie Wellington, Ironman and ex-professional athelete, cycled to 32 weeks Chrissie Wellington
“We conceived our daughter — The Bean – in March 2015. Bean was the size of a grain of sand when I embarked on extensive research into exercise in pregnancy, specifically through an athlete’s lens. There wasn’t a lot of information out there! I was fortunate to have an uncomplicated pregnancy with no adverse issues or side effects, aside from excessive snoring (which was more of a problem for my husband than me), and I wanted to remain as active and healthy as possible.
I swapped the road bike for the more upright/stable position on the mountain bike at week 28 — but stayed off technical trails
“This would mean I could stay in my happy place mentally and prepare as best as I could for labour and recovery afterwards.
“I chose to power/Nordic walk and swim during the first eight weeks of the first trimester and then introduced running and cycling as I approached the second trimester. I even sneaked in a few three-hour rides between 12–20 weeks.
“I found a great range of bib shorts, which were not tight on my belly and had a zip at the back so that I could pull them down easily — and a lot (for all that peeing!)
“I found myself in the Alps whilst five months pregnant and couldn’t resist doing some of the famous climbs, including Alp D’Huez — albeit steadily. I decided to veto any hard efforts or intervals for my entire pregnancy. Anything that made me red in the face or caused me to pant (nocturnal snoring doesn’t count) was out.
“I swapped the road bike for the more upright/stable position on the mountain bike at week 28 — but stayed off technical trails. I stopped cycling at about week 32 due to the discomfort of my expanding bump and the fear of living up to my nickname, Muppet, and having a nasty accident. After that, I opted to run and swim and bank some sleep!”
Mountain biker and adventurer. Mother of a three-year-old son
Experienced mountain biker and coach Ali Campbell kept riding on her familiar trails throughout her pregnancy Ali Campbell
“Finding out I was pregnant was a joy for us both, but also filled my head with worry about how ‘life’ would shift after many years of riding mountain bikes, kayaking, surfing, going on expeditions and working abroad and now running my own mountain bike coaching company. Things were obviously going to change.
I got a lot of positive comments and support, but I also received negative ones from both men and women who did not know me or my background
“Just like most people, I initially turned to the internet for some ‘sound’ advice, although what I actually came across was mostly myths and scare-mongering. Being confident helped ground our thought. I had the general aim of keeping as active as I felt comfortable. It was something I knew I was going to need mentally as much as anything else. I’m also pretty stuck in my way of heading off to have some fun at the drop of a hat!
“Having both worked in the outdoors for many years, my partner and I are used to assessing ‘Risks vs. Benefits’, and we talked constantly about how we could manage these risks and still keep me as active as we could throughout the pregnancy.
“Although the final say was always mine, Bob was a great support and we often discussed what we would do if things went wrong while out on the trail.
“As the pregnancy progressed I still felt comfortable riding most of my normal trails albeit taking it easy. I was feeling comfortable and riding well within my ability. The fresh air and time away from all the other worries of being pregnant was a real reset for me to cope mentally, and being relaxed and positive whilst pregnant can only be good for the wee one too.
“I got a lot of positive comments and support (I must thank the close friends who often ‘assisted’ me up some hill on a regular basis so I could get a ride in), but surprisingly I also received negative ones from both men and women who did not know me or my background. They questioned what I was doing and at times this was hard to deal with in the fragile mind of a pregnant woman, but ultimately I just felt that being active and happy was right for me and my baby so I carried on.
“I was riding, surfing and enjoying my life to a reasonable level and not taking any real chances in my view. Keeping as active as I did will definitely not be the right choice for everyone, but for me it worked.”
Mountain biker, roadie, commuter, adventure racer. 34 weeks pregnant
Fiona McBryde found e-bikes a boon for keeping mobile and cycling Fiona McBryde
“I have kept up a 32km round trip commute throughout my pregnancy (at the time of writing, 34 weeks). One early challenge was that my first trimester was fairly awful, as it often is. At least it was relatively easy on my bike commute to find a bush or a tree to duck behind for a quiet hurl when necessary — I couldn’t imagine coping with that on a bus!
One challenge in the third trimester has been finding comfortable kit to cycle in
“Getting out on the bike every day and feeling the wind/weather on my face helped keep me sane through what seemed like a near-constant sea of nausea. Once ‘reborn’ in the second trimester, my daily commute became a pleasure once more, and a way of reassuring myself that life hadn’t changed too much… (yet)!
“A life saver for me was getting myself set up with an electric bike, and a more upright position (especially in the second and third trimester when my usual ‘race position’ became impossible).
“Essentially we built up an old frame with a cheap China import electric hub, and extra long stem with riser bars to get me into more of a sit up and beg position. Also I have a gel cushion on my seat. Much more comfy!
“Although I am a keen cyclist and I would usually turn my nose up at an assisted ride, it really has made it easy to keep riding until quite late in pregnancy. My midwife loves that I have turned up to every appointment so far on my bike!
“One challenge in the third trimester has been finding comfortable kit to cycle in. I started off stealing some of my husband’s old stretchy bike shorts, but after outgrowing those, and not wanting to invest in buying a new pair of oversized shorts just for a month’s use, I eventually figured out that I could hook the elastic band at the front of my shorts over the nose of my bike seat, which creates a nice little pouch for the baby belly. Note — this is a tactic best employed with a baggy top hanging down in front to avoid unseemly exposure!”
Mountain biker, roadie, cyclocrosser, adventure racer. Mother of two boys and a girl, aged six and eight
Sue Fisher wore a heart rate monitor to ensure she wasn’t pushing herself too hard Sue Fisher
“When pregnant with my first, I was quite clear that a belly wasn’t going to stop me riding.
During the first pregnancy I wore a heart rate monitor to make sure I wasn’t pushing too hard
“I rode my mountain bike and road bike all the way through that pregnancy, stopping only when the pain in my back got too bad around 37 weeks. I found ways around the discomfort as I turned the stem on my road bike upside down so that I was sitting more upright.
“The main problem was finding some cycling shorts that were comfy, and in the end went for a pair of men’s XL tights with a waist band that would go over the bump.
“During the first pregnancy I wore a heart rate monitor to make sure I wasn’t pushing too hard and as my belly wasn’t that big I didn’t feel that inhibited for the first seven months. I rode my bike to work most days.
“With the twins it was a bit of a different situation as I had a one-year-old to deal with. Swimming was easier as I could do it in the evenings when he had gone to bed. I did cycle a bit during that pregnancy but at four months it just stopped feeling right. I can’t put my finger on why. So I stopped going out on the road or trails and stuck to the turbo trainer instead, where I could sit in a more upright position and tailor the ride to how I was feeling.”
Roadie and commuter. Mother of a two-week-old baby boy
Kati Jagger understandably found the prospect of commuting on London roads while pregnant uncomfortable Kati Jagger
“I commuted and kept up weekend rides for the first three months, which really helped with morning sickness and maintaining a sense of normalcy.
I can’t wait to get back on my bike, hopefully just in time for some late summer outings
“Once the clocks went back though, the darkness and chaos of my route home through London was just a little too hairy to feel comfortable with my precious cargo. After a close call with a motorcycle on the Farringdon Road I took to public transport full-time, which has turned out to be one of the hardest sacrifices I’ve made as a mum-to-be, but completely necessary with London traffic.
“I managed to do a few more weekend rides in Kent after that, but general discomfort in the saddle meant I was off the bike completely not long afterwards, including on the turbo (no surprise there, though, as I’ve always hated cycling indoors).
“Swimming and yoga have kept me active throughout the rest of the pregnancy, but I can’t wait to get back on my bike, hopefully just in time for some late summer outings.”
Commuter and family cyclist. Mother of two boys and a girl, aged seven, four and seven months
Ruth-Anna is a doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology, so is well aware of the risks and benefits of cycling while pregnant Ruth-Anna MacQueen
“I am an ‘everyday’ cyclist — it’s been my main mode of transport since I was a student. I love the time and money savings as well as the independence and reliability, so it made sense to me to keep cycling to work whilst pregnant with my first child seven years ago.
I found the biggest hurdle was actually just dealing with disapproval from others
“My day job is as a doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology so I was confident with the evidence for cycling in pregnancy and that I wasn’t going to damage my baby.
“As it was, I developed pelvic girdle pain, which has worsened with each of my two subsequent pregnancies, and so I became increasingly dependent on cycling to get around as even walking to the bus stop was agony.
“I cycled throughout all three of my pregnancies. My second was born on her due date, shortly after a 15-mile cycle (with toddler on the back), and with my youngest I actually cycled into the hospital to be induced — again, due to the pelvic girdle pain this was the most comfortable and easiest option for me.
“I prefer upright style frames anyway so never found my bump a particular hindrance and I was lucky in that my balance seemed pretty much totally unaffected. I’ve never fallen off a bike in 15 years of cycling in London and that was no different in pregnancy. I found the biggest hurdle was actually just dealing with disapproval from others — including some other cyclists, unfortunately — though my friends and family were very supportive.
What’s your experience of cycling while pregnant? Share your stories below.