Cycling through pregnancy is a wonderful way of staying healthy as your body does its amazing thing of growing a baby inside of you, but there’s a lot to consider to go about riding safely. Looking for some top tips? road.cc presenter Becca Charlton has been sharing her current pregnancy journey, and she’s learnt a lot as her bump has grown bigger and bigger. Becca’s nearing the end of the third trimester now, but here’s what she wishes she’d known back at the start…
In a series of videos on our YouTube channel, Becca has been turning to the experts including former British Cycling physiotherapist Phil Burt, GP Ralph Mitchell plus female pro riders Dame Sarah Storey and Elinor Barker, who have both cycled through pregnancy (or are currently doing so in the case of the latter).
We’ve looked at the benefits of continuing to cycle throughout your pregnancy, delved into NHS advice on what intensity you should be riding at, explored how to fuel and stay hydrated, and considered positional and clothing changes that are needed to keep things comfortable in our guides to the first, second and third trimesters which you can find below.
But if you’re looking for some quick tips for cycling through pregnancy, here are Becca’s top eight…
“If in doubt rein it back, it’s not the time to prove anything in training,” Becca recommends. Advice about listening to your body and not overdoing it is harder than it sounds though, especially in the beginning:
“A lot of people will say listen to your body but that’s a very difficult thing when you’re in the early weeks of pregnancy," says Becca.
“Before I really hit the sickness phase I was able to get on the bike, I was able to do interval sessions.
"People kept saying, ‘oh, your body will tell you what to do’, but actually, I felt completely normal.
“As the pregnancy has gone on and the bump has gotten bigger, now if I sit on the turbo for too long it’s uncomfortable, but in the first trimester it wasn’t and I could do pretty much what I’ve been doing before.
“A lot of people said continue doing what you do, you don’t have to do anything different or if you’re at this level of fitness on the bike, continue, do your thing.
“But then I started reading some quite scaremongering literature - quite a lot of it online of course - that said you musn’t go too hard, you musn’t go to your max heart rate, you musn’t overheat on the bike, so I endeavoured to get some really solid advice.”
One of these experts was GP Ralph Mitchell, who recommends turning to the 2019 Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancy for understanding how active you can be, safely.
This guidance says that there are certain cases when women shouldn't exercise, though, which they call 'absolute contraindications'. Ruptured membranes, unexplained persistent vaginal bleeding all fall into this category.
Then there are relative contraindications which include recurrent pregnancy loss, gestational hypertension, symptomatic anaemia, to name but a few. You can find the full list of absolute and relative contraindications over here.
“You can do something but it’s a discussion with your GP, or midwife or obstetrician,” Ralph notes. “But other than that, there’s very few things that should stop you exercising whilst in pregnancy.
“Certainly the benefits of exercise as a whole across pregnancy outweigh the sort of the risks involved with exercise down the line because that’s one area that I can look back on when I worked in obstetrics and labour wards is that women with high BMIs, metabolic problems, blood pressure or diabetes, they were the ones that had poorer outcomes than healthy women.
“If following the Canadian guidelines, I think exercise is very good for pregnancy,” Ralph says.
Keeping fuelled is very important during your pregnancy and you’re going to have to find a solution that works for you pre-, during and post- bike rides.
“People are going to tell you in the first trimester, ‘oh, make sure your nutrition is on point and make sure you’re getting your five fruit and veg a day but I felt like all I could do was combat feeling sick or being sick the whole time”, Becca admits.
That said, she found an easy way of getting fruit and vegetables was just chucking the blender on and having a smoothie in the morning. “But, oh my goodness, I had that on an empty stomach once or twice, and I learnt the hard way.” Becca admits.
For bike rides, Becca recommends planning for the fact that you’re going to need to snack all the time.
“I needed to know there was a cafe that was open so I was checking to make sure they were and what their opening hours were because I didn’t want to get halfway on a bike ride and think ‘oh, I have no way of eating’,” she says. “I also just shoved snacks in every pocket possible.”
While you can learn a lot from speaking with other women about their experiences, you’ve got to remember that your pregnancy will be specific to you. There will be some overlap, but ups and downs will be different for everybody.
“It’s been so lovely to share anecdotes and share journeys with other people, but ultimately, your pregnancy is your own story,” Becca notes.
“I was sort of sailing along with certain elements and people were saying, ‘oh god, you just look like you’re breezing through and in certain ways I was but actually I ended up having pelvic girdle pain, which meant that one day I literally couldn't stand up and get out of bed,” Becca shares.
She was put on crutches, but after speaking with experts, Becca found she could cycle again.
“I’ve continued to cycle through the whole pregnancy and so I think it’s very easy for people to say ‘oh, I had that and it was absolutely terrible’ or ‘I had that and it was fine, I didn’t have any problems, don’t worry about it too much’, and that can maybe undermine how serious you feel something is.
“If you’re in pain and something’s not working for you, it doesn’t matter what somebody else’s journey has been like, you need to do what works for you,” Becca stresses.
“I can’t say enough how different my pregnancy has been from what my expectations were,” she shares. “I thought I was going to get a massive bump overnight in trimester one and not be able to do anything but luckily for me that wasn’t the case and I’ve kept going.
“I’m in the final weeks now and I’m still on the turbo.”
Positional changes will also vary as people grow at different rates and each bump size is different.
“You might find that the position you can adopt on the bike is completely different to mine,” Becca notes. “I’ve heightened my handlebars but definitely not as much as I thought I’d probably have to.”
There isn’t a right or wrong position, it’s about what is comfortable for you. “Just experiment,” Becca recommends.
“Someone said to me the other day on Twitter that they just stacked up loads of towels on their handlebars to give them the right sort of height.” Becca shares. “I quite liked that because I like a makeshift solution”.
You don’t have to do anything on the bike and, in particular, you don’t want to be putting pressure on yourself to improve during this period.
“I wanted to continue to ride because it made me feel good,” Becca shares, “but if you have a day where you’re fatigued, you’re tired, you’re not recovering, you're uncomfortable, there is no shame in climbing off the bike.
“The biggest thing that will probably hold you back is needing to wee,” Becca admits.
“I did a Zwift fondo and my only thing was, ‘am I going to be able to get through this without going to the toilet every 10 minutes.’
“I found various times that I had to get on and off and pause things- sometimes I made it through sessions and sometimes I didn’t.”
If you keep on needing to pee, you may find yourself not wanting to drink while riding. But don’t scrimp and dehydrate yourself just so you don’t have to stop and get off or find a spot for a comfort break.
Although you’re not upping your FTP or setting any other PR, Becca has found pregnancy can be really empowering.
“As a journalist in the world of cycling, often over the years I’ve assessed my appearance on the bike,” Becca admits. “Do I look like a bike rider? Do I have the build of somebody that qualifies to talk about cycling and bike racing? It's been a little bit of a minefield at times.
“For the first time in my life, I've gotten on the bike, and thought, ‘I'm so grateful for what my body can do, I'm just so grateful to still be able to ride a bike this heavily pregnant.’
“It’s meant that I'm not thinking, ‘well, I have a little bit of a fat roll here’, because what my body's allowing me to do through pregnancy is just phenomenal.”
I’m sure we can all agree that Becca has impressively shown just how capable she is and how capable a woman's body is. She has continued to ride through each trimester and through her personal struggles with pelvic girdle pain, alongside continuing to work as she has shared her journey in a four-part YouTube series, all while she is going through this wonderful new but challenging experience. Massive kudos.
It’s very normal to have lots of questions, especially if you’re going through pregnancy for the first time as it’s a completely new experience. Understandably you are going to want to be making sure you are keeping your growing baby and yourself healthy and safe.
There is no such thing as a stupid question. It’s really important to put any questions you have to your GP, obstetrician or midwife and get answers.
Here’s one of Becca’s…
“Is the baby drinking on my drinks? Do I need to be upping that when I’m riding”, Becca asks.
“No, not necessarily,” Ralph replies. “A baby can't drink specifically off you.
“You're just losing a bit more sweat as you've got a bigger blood volume circulating around your body.”
In line with the usual advice, Ralph says it’s important to drink as much as you can in warmer weather. He also adds: “As you get in later stages, your blood pressure tends to drop a little bit and you can feel lightheaded, so drinking enough fluids at that particular time will help keep your blood pressure up as well.”
Here’s another one of Becca’s concerns …
“Can you harm your unborn child by doing things like gravel biking and mountain biking?,” Becca asks. “I’m not talking about coming off, I think that’s something separate, but I was going down rocky bits on bikes and I was thinking, ‘am I shaking the baby around in there?’”
First up, if you’ve got any sort of complications, Ralph recommends having that discussion with your obstetrician or midwife who knows your particular pregnancy really well.
“If, for example, you had a condition like an incompetent cervix or other problems to do with the sack around the baby, you’d probably want to avoid rough terrain,” he notes.
“But speaking broadly, sort of mild bumping around isn’t going to be doing a huge amount to you.”
“Do what’s comfortable for you,” Ralph stresses. “Avoid anything high risk or high impact - the biggest risk would be falling off.”
Have you kept up cycling while pregnant? What would be your top tip?