[Publisher’s note: This article is by our Family Biking columnist Marion Rice (bio). Marion previously wrote about how to deal with kids who don’t want to go by bike. Today, she delves into the topic of biking while pregnant.]
It’s an early fall day in Portland and OB/GYN Alison Edelman is riding 6 miles through the city to get to work at OHSU. With the exception of the big (butt-busting) hill up Terwilliger at the end, her route is not especially challenging (there are bike lanes the whole way). But today, instead of biking up, she opts to take the tram.
here riding into work last week —
is 20 weeks into her pregnancy.
(Photos © J. Maus)
Who can blame her? She’s 20 weeks pregnant.
Is that crazy? Normal? Is the baby at risk? I decided to delve into this a bit more, starting with Dr. Edelman.
When thinking about whether you should bike while pregnant, Dr. Edelman suggests that it’s really important is to talk to your physician to make an informed decision. “As a physician,” she said, “we normally recommend that pregnant women don’t put themselves in a position where they might be at risk for falling or abdominal (stomach) trauma, like skiing, biking, soccer, etc…”
“Biking is sometimes a hard call because it’s not something you associate with trauma.”
— Dr. Alison Edelman, OB/GYN at OHSU
Dr. Edelmen went on to explain that after about the 12th week of pregnancy (most people consider 40 weeks to be full term), a woman’s boney pelvic structure no longer protects the uterus. But despite the risk of injury if they were to fall, Dr. Edelman says some of her patients still opt to stay active.
So, if you’re pregnant, should you stay off the bike?
“Biking is sometimes a hard call,” she explains, “because it’s not something you associate with trauma. As your body changes, your balance is very different and depending on what type of commute you have and time of year, you may have changing road conditions that increase your chances of having trauma.”
As more and more women take to the streets of Portland on their bikes, it won’t be that unusual to see expectant moms with really big tummies navigating around. Angela Koch of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) is one such mom. She’s 20 weeks into her term and determined to use her bike as her main source of transportation, as long as it makes sense to her and her doctor to do so.
For Koch — who also has two daughters ages six and ten — her first trimester was terrible. “I was nauseous, exhausted and my husband had to get the kids to bed and to school. Since we are carfree there were added issues of transportation for my two girls.”
Luckily for Koch, her husband is a bike mechanic so they have several different bike options to choose from. During our recent spate of snowy weather, she was concerned about sliding and losing control of her bike. To make the going easier, Koch said her husband installed some knobby tires on her bike (she also opted to take a bus once or twice).
In Dr. Edelman’s case, she felt comfortable biking until 24 weeks of pregnancy. For her, 24 weeks was a turning point because a fetus is not viable outside the uterus before then. “So if there’s an episode or trauma,” she explained, “that causes premature birth, we can’t really do anything about it.”
After 24 weeks, Edelman cites statistics showing that less than 25% of children born that early do well. “The thought of having a child for whom my decision impacted their survival and long term health wasn’t justifiable to me.”
But everyone has a right to decide on what feels comfortable to them. Dr. Edelman shared the story of a nurse in her office that biked until she was 38 weeks: “She was an experienced biker and felt confident in her choice to continue riding. She also did not have a drivers license so this was her mode of transportation and she did just fine.”
Angela is now in the middle of her second trimester. Her belly is starting to get bigger, and she’s already thinking about switching to a more upright bike. She’s making sure she eats enough calories and protein and listens to her body. For Angela, being carfree is an expression of her ethos and an important part of her life but it doesn’t mean that she is going to bike everywhere all the time.
I’ll check in with Angela again in a couple of months and report on how she’s doing. In the meantime, if you have any words of wisdom, experiences you want to share or words of encouragement for women who are biking while pregnant, please chime in below.
— To contact Marion Rice, and to read her previous articles, click here.