Cycling with a bump – is it safe to ride while pregnant?

A pregnant cyclist
Cycling UK's Victoria Hazael cycled when she was expecting both of her children; here's her experience of riding with an ever-increasing bump

From the moment I found out I was expecting my son I wanted to protect him and keep him safe. I read the books, gave up drinking wine and eating brie – and worried I'd have to put my bike away, too.

Searching online for advice on cycling when you are pregnant is confusing. NCT lists cycling under their activities to continue with when pregnant, while the NHS advises pregnant women to proceed with caution because of the risk of falling, but doesn't say to stop cycling. Although most people believe it isn't safe to cycle while pregnant, both the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives advise pregnant cyclists to "take particular care" but stay active. 

Thankfully, both my GP and my midwife were really supportive of my decision to cycle to work. The midwife explained that as I was already cycling every day, I just had to be careful because my joints would be less stable and my bump would alter my centre of gravity. I was warned not to get out of breath or over exert myself; if I could talk at the same time I wasn't overdoing it. I should also not get too hot or dehydrated.

To me cycling is not a sport, a race or a training session; it's just the way I choose to travel anywhere that's fewer than 10 miles away. It's a practical way for me to exercise – and it cheers me up, too.

In the early days, I found the fresh air helped my morning sickness. As I entered my second trimester and my bump was bigger, I was more comfortable sitting upright on my mountain bike, with fat tyres and flat handlebars. By the time I was seven months pregnant I rode a Brompton instead. Towards the end, I had the saddle low enough for me to put my feet flat on the ground. I was slow – but it was much less tiring than walking.

Only once in nine months did I feel unsafe on my bike. A driver beeped and overtook me a little too close for comfort, and as the car accelerated away I saw a yellow sign in the window that read 'Baby on Board'. At the traffic lights I knocked on the window and pointed to my bump – the driver was extremely apologetic.

The bigger my bump, the more I had to justify my decision

Cycling UK's digital and content manager, Victoria Hazael - mum of two

I had done my research, but wasn't prepared for the comments from concerned family, friends and complete strangers who all declared: "You shouldn't be cycling in your condition!" The bigger my bump, the more I had to justify my decision. Most people don't realise that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by as much as 20:1 and that sitting at home on the sofa all day long is actually more dangerous.

In the end, I had a straightforward pregnancy. I stopped cycling when it snowed and I was 39 weeks. Looking back, cycling relieved my back pain and helped my ankles not to swell too much. I truly believe it prepared my body for the challenge of labour.

Update: cycling while expecting for the second time

I was pregnant again and cycled until 33 weeks (my daughter was born at 37 weeks). It was in many ways a more uncomfortable pregnancy. I was working part-time, so didn't cycle every day and found it almost impossible to cycle after 26 weeks with my toddler in the child seat as well. The extra weight was too much and I felt really tired very quickly.

After this blog, I received lots of supportive emails from other mums who had cycled while pregnant and I really hope this will help and inspire other mums-to-be to only put their bikes away if or when they decide to.

Just as each baby is unique, so is each pregnancy – cycling may really help you, but if you find it too uncomfortable stop for a while. Soon enough you can be back on your bike with a little person in a trailer, cargo bike or child seat. If you can't wait that long – once you are able to – take a quick ride round the block, the fresh air and time completely alone will lift your spirits!

If you cycled when you were pregnant, please get in touch to share your experience.