by Sam Haddad
21 May 2010
- Why are female cyclists so vulnerable to lorries?
- SF Bicycle Coalition: Family Biking Guide
- Source: Guardian
Pregnant Danes wouldn’t deign to get off their bikes, so why do friends and cab drivers take exception to childbearing cyclists?
When I first emailed colleagues to let them know I was pregnant among the congratulations and “That’ll cause a dip in the Smirnoff share price”-type chortle came this unexpected note from our receptionist, “You’re not still cycling to work are you? Is that safe?”
The truth was I didn’t know. As an avid cyclist, with a firm belief that riding to and from work makes living in London not just bearable but actually quite pleasurable, it was one of the first things I’d Googled after the test shone positive. Yet the advice was conflicting. Everyone agreed on the physical and psychological benefits of moderate, low-impact exercise during a low-risk pregnancy, and theNHS advises women to “keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise for as long as you feel comfortable”. But it also warns against cycling “because there’s a risk of falling”. A sentiment echoed by parenting sites, such as the NCTand BabyCentre, the latter warning against all but riding an exercise bike as “even if you’re an experienced cyclist, there’s a danger you’ll fall or be knocked off your bike.”
Really? Granted some accidents will be tragically unavoidable, but isn’t that the case when you cross a road or get into your car?
Thankfully the CTC – the national cyclists’ organisation – was on hand with positive advice and useful tips from raising your handlebars and fitting lower gears to the more spirited “cut down on those off-road descents and don’t race-train in a pack”. They also tell you to consult your doctor first, which I did. She saw no reason why I shouldn’t cycle as long as I took it easy and listened to my body. At three months in, my body was feeling good, with the only sniff of morning sickness coming on the rare mornings when I took the train and bus to work, which also doubled my journey time.
As you’d expect things are more enlightened on the continent. I met a Dutch lady on holiday and asked if she was planning to cycle through her third pregnancy. Her incredulous reply was, “Of course, how else would I get around?” And as Mikael Colville-Andersen of the Copenhagen-based bike blog Cycle Chic says: “Cycling is virtually prescribed for pregnant women in Denmark.” He even devotes a post to beautiful pregnant cyclists in all their glory. On a thread on the CTC Facebook page Merlijn Janssens illustrates the different mentality in the UK: “When pregnant with my first one nobody in the Netherlands questioned [me] cycling, here everybody looks at you like you are committing a deadly sin.”
I’m now a week shy of seven months pregnant and still merrily, if not a little more breathlessly, cycling my 15-mile round commute to work. I feel really good and my doctor is impressed by how “mobile” I am for this stage of my pregnancy. I’m still riding my much-loved single speed, though I’ve mentally tuned into the fact I will probably have to switch to a more upright Dutch-style bike for the final stretch, as even the smallest inclines are getting ever tougher. Or I may have to stop cycling altogether, who knows. I’m keeping an open mind about it.
Over the last month even the baggiest of my husband’s t-shirts have ceased to hide my ever-expanding bump, which has led to me getting more than my fair share of funny looks from strangers, ranging from the quizzical double takes to downright disapproval. Last week a taxi driver hollered, “You shouldn’t be on your bike in your condition love!” after I barked at him for dangerously cutting me up in a bus lane. And a friend stopped me in the street to the other day to say, complete with worried face, “Promise me you’ll stop cycling soon”. As if the mere act of me cycling was mortally wounding her.
But I’ve drawn comfort from the advice of fellow cyclists who rode until late in their pregnancy, such as Sarah Buck, formerly a designer at bike fashion brandCyclodelic. She was a bike courier for 10 years and never considered not cycling while pregnant. “No one dared tell me not to cycle or they’d have been in trouble. But I felt so comfortable on the bike it was never going to be an issue for me. I was cycling from Camberwell to Hackney, an hour and a half of light-impact exercise a day and really do think it benefited my body and mind. I had a really healthy pregnancy, and as you’re not putting weight on your legs, it’s actually easier than walking.”
Josie Dew, author of seven cycle travel books and vice-president of the CTC cycled 10-15 miles daily throughout both her pregnancies including the actual days she went into labour. “I recommend cycling while pregnant (that is if your body is already used to a daily pounding of pedals) and then cycling up a 1:4 hill on your due date. Seems to get things moving along nicely and at quite a pace, too.”
“I’m 44 so at first the doctors were a bit panicky about my age but then they realised I was quite fit from all the cycling I do. It was quite hard going by the end, like being really unfit, but it made me feel happy and keeping active is key….And my midwife thinks being a cyclist definitely helped my stamina during birth. If you’re used to being tired and pushing yourself through 10 more mountain passes, it helps you handle the pain of childbirth.”
Here’s hoping she’s right.
• Sam Haddad is the editor of Cooler, a sport and style title for young women