A friend popped over last week and we were chatting. ‘I saw someone who looked just like you on a bike at the weekend,’ she laughed. Erm, it was me. I was out for a cycle, I replied. She looked at me in horror. ‘Cycling? But you’re pregnant!’ Yes, I’m still on my bike and I intend to keep it up as long as I can.
The key with fitness in pregnancy is not starting anything new. I have always cycled and I love it. My balance is fine and my bike is still comfortable — well, just about at this stage of game. Soon I’ll be dusting off my old-fashioned, upright ladies’ bike as my bump is starting to rest against my thighs when I pedal.
Safety was my friend’s main concern, but I reassured her that I stick to quiet roads and don’t jump any red lights. Contact sports and anything that might involve falling, such as horse riding, ice skating, and rock climbing, are all out along with scuba diving, but if you’ve been running, walking, swimming or cycling, now is not the time to give up and resign yourself to nine months eating chocolate on the sofa.
Just be aware that the pregnancy hormone relaxin softens your ligaments to accommodate for a growing baby and prepare you for labour, which can make you prone to injury. For this reason, I find when I’m pregnant that running hurts my hips, so I know it’s time to back off and stick to fast walking. However, for the athlete Alysia Montano, running an 800m race at 34 weeks pregnant was perfectly natural, and Paula Radcliffe’s marathon running efforts during pregnancy were well within her capabilities.
Try and listen to your body as much as possible. My first trimester was tough going with sickness and fatigue — sleep was what I needed most, not exercise. Pushing yourself is not advisable either. I’ve dropped down a few gears to accommodate for the slight breathlessness — a result of all those pregnancy hormones, and baby squishing my diaphragm — and I do shorter distances at a slower pace. Some evidence suggests that overexertion can limit oxygen supply to baby, so to be on the safe side stick to a pace where you can still hold a conversation. You won’t regret putting the effort in.
Do get the all-clear from your GP first, but if you’re pregnancy is low-risk I’m sure they will agree that it can help you manage weight gain and avoid issues such as high blood pressure. It’s also great birth preparation — I equate labour to running a marathon — and you’ll regain fitness levels much quicker afterwards.
Published in the Irish Daily Mail, Tuesday May 31, 2016