Health for women cyclists - pregnancy
There are two areas of concern with pregnancy and cycling, the well-being of the mother and the well-being of the foetus. Regular exercise and increased physical fitness will help a mother cope with pregnancy, childbirth and subsequent child care but what about the baby?
Regular exercise and improved physical fitness will help a mother cope with the pregnancy, childbirth and subsequent childcare, but what about the baby? There is a good body of scientific research, which supports the idea that moderate exercise is beneficial to the mother and has no harmful effects on the foetus - there is even evidence to show it is beneficial to the baby. The key question though is: what is moderate? One person's moderate training ride could be another's maximal effort, so be guided by the way YOU feel on any particular day.
The key question though is: what is moderate?
Clearly the situation is different for the healthy but previously sedentary woman looking to take up cycling during pregnancy compared with a regular rider or well-conditioned athlete. Every pregnant woman should check with her doctor before engaging in exercise or training - even the athlete will need to discuss this as soon as confirming she is pregnant. The first three months of pregnancy is crucial for the foetus so the sooner professional advice is sought the better.
The key factors revolve around frequency, intensity and duration of exercise. A regular rider would be advised to decrease the intensity and duration of her training sessions, but perhaps ride more often. Problems arise when exercise becomes too intense or too prolonged. There is potential for the foetus to suffer from overheating - if the maternal core temperature rises, dehydration and lack of available glucose (hypoglycaemia) or oxygen (hypoxia) may occur. Certainly, long or hard rides in hot, humid conditions must be avoided. Similarly ensure you take on board sufficient fluid and use energy drinks supplements.
Problems arise when exercise becomes too intense or too prolonged
Cycling is a weight-supported activity so the level of shock to the joints, which become more lax in pregnancy, is minimal. The key issues relate to safety, as the mother's centre of gravity changes and there is the danger of physical trauma. Avoid off road riding on rough terrain and competition.
You may also find that you need to change your position to a more upright one as the pregnancy progresses. You may also find your saddle becomes uncomfortable but as your rides should be getting shorter this should not be too much of a problem. Turbo-training and spinning are OK as long as the basic guidelines of temperature and hydration are followed. Finally, remember the key aim of exercise in pregnancy is to MAINTAIN fitness NOT develop it!
In summary the key guidelines for exercise in pregnancy are:
- Avoid prolonged exertion in the first trimester
- Avoid straining while holding breath
- Maintain adequate nutrition and hydration
- Avoid exercising in warm / humid environments
- Avoid exercising lying on the back after 14 weeks
- Avoid activities involving physical contact or danger of falling / crashing
- Take periodic rest periods to minimise risk of temperature or low-oxygen stress to the foetus
- Discuss your pregnancy and your exercise programme with your doctor