Is it safe to cycle while pregnant?

One of the questions mums-to-be ask us is “Is it safe to cycle while pregnant?”  Previously there was no categorical answer on this, but new advice issued by the UK’s Chief Medical Officers has made it clear that it is safe to cycle while pregnant for the majority of pregnant women.

What are the benefits of cycling throughout pregnancy?

Recent research has shown that moderate exercise during pregnancy will reduce the risk of obesity and hypertensive disorders (which include gestational diabetes and Preeclampsia) and give women benefits from improved cardiorespiratory fitness.  Other benefits from exercise can include improved sleep and a positive effect on depression in pregnancy.

For those worried about exercising, the good news was that there was no evidence of additional risk of preterm birth, small or large baby size, or other complications for the newborn baby such as a decrease in the Apgar score.

Interestingly (and annoyingly for pregnant women everywhere), the research found no significant benefit from exercising in reducing either back pain or the duration of labour.

How much cycling is safe during pregnancy?

The guidance is for pregnant women to aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week, at a level that makes you breathe faster. This is the same amount as for non-pregnant adults, so in effect is saying “don’t stop just because you’re pregnant”.   This may be done in bouts of 10 minutes or over, and can include exercise as part of daily life (such as cycling to work) rather than formal exercise classes.

For pregnant women who are extremely active and perform very vigorous activity the recommendation is that they should be careful not to exercise for long durations (over 1 hour) especially in hot humid conditions.

Is it safe to mountain bike whilst pregnant?

The advice from the UK’s Chief Medical Officers is to avoid “off road cycling” whilst pregnant, due to the risk of falls. By “off-road cycling” this would mean mountain biking off-road rather than following a flat traffic free cycle path that takes you safely away from a busy main road.

Not mentioned in the advice, but probably worth thinking about is how to get into contact with help if you were alone on a trail and away from a road and had any form of problem either with your bike or your body.

Official guidance on whether it's safe to cycle whilst pregnant

Is it safe to cycle while pregnant?

There are a few other things you need to think of whilst cycling during pregnancy that are included in the guidance issued by the Chief Medical Officers:

a) Listen to your body and adapt your exercise

The advice is that women should adapt, not stop, their exercise throughout pregnancy, and consider the types of activity they are able to continue doing.  As a general rule is if it feels pleasant keep going, if it is uncomfortable stop and seek advice.

The warning signs of when physical activity should be discontinued and medical advice sought are apparent and many are irrespective of exercise. They include breathlessness before or following minimal exertion, headaches, dizziness, chest pain, muscle weakness affecting balance and calf pain or swelling. Women may also be advised to reduce/stop physical activity following pregnancy complications such as vaginal bleeding, regular painful contractions or amniotic fluid leakage.

b) Don’t bump the bump

This advice means that pregnant women are advised not to do activities where there is an  increased risk of injury through physical contact (such as contact sports and any physical activity where there is a high risk of falls/trauma).  The advice for cycling is that “off-road cycling” should be avoided due to the increased risk of trauma. As previously mentioned, the definition of “off-road cycling” is rather wide ranging, so should probably be taken to mean routes with descents and climbs, rather than a flat disused railway line that has been adapted into a cycle route.

c) Seek advice if you have any form of obstetric or medical complications.

All the advice given is for an uncomplicated pregnancy. It’s important to remember that many pregnant women who have obstetric or medical complications can perform moderate intensity physical activity, however recommendations are dependent on each individual and additional monitoring and specialist support may be required.

d) Keep cool, comfortable & hydrated

Staying hydrated, wearing loose clothing and avoiding excessive exposure to heat is important throughout pregnancy. The upper recommended limit of 1 hour of vigorous exercise is because pregnant women are not able to regulate their body temperature as effectively as before pregnancy.

e) Postural balance

Postural balance can be affected during pregnancy. Therefore, pregnant women are at higher risk of falls. Balance exercises may help to improve this.

Is it safe to start cycling whilst pregnant?

For women who are inactive before becoming pregnant, the message is to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of exercise up to the recommended 150 minutes per week.   If you’ve never ridden a bike before, then it would be sensible to seek out a local cycle coaching scheme rather than attempting to teach yourself, due to the risk of falls.

The full guidance on exercising whilst pregnant can be found on the government website

Other articles you may find useful:

Disclaimer:  The information given in this post is done so in good faith. Please note that there may be other risks not known to me or not reasonably foreseeable at this time.  Neither Karen Gee or Cycle Sprog can accept any liability for any accident, injury or fatality arising as a result of cycling whilst pregnant.

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