About the author: Clare Dowling is a Smarter Choices Co-Ordinator for Sustrans South East.
"You're not still cycling, are you?" I’m not surprised that I've heard this question numerous times since revealing earlier this year that I was pregnant with my first child. My travel choices have always been somewhat alien to the car-centric mentality that currently prevails across much of the UK.
Why do I do it?
I am not the person that cycles the fastest or the furthest, and to me cycling is not a race. It's something that I thoroughly enjoy doing, a mode of convenient transport from A to B whilst enjoying being out in the fresh air and getting some exercise.
As a National Standards cycle trainer, I am quite confident in my ability and awareness on the roads, so I haven't felt at all daunted by cycling in traffic or the odd bit of off-roading.
With recent studies showing that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks at 10:1, I know I'm providing a good start in life for my baby by being healthy and fit.
It is also well documented in every reputable textbook or health website that moderate exercise during pregnancy is beneficial.
Being active during pregnancy:
- helps you cope with the physical and mental demands of pregnancy and labour
- reduces the changes to your body shape
- reduces excessive weight gain during pregnancy
- helps you get back into shape after birth
- can also help prevent medical issues such as pre-elampsia and gestational diabetes.
The general rule of thumb seems to be: continue the kinds of exercise you normally did before you were pregnant (unless it's a high impact sport like kick boxing) at moderate levels and don't take up anything new.
There is some conflicting advice particularly pertaining to cycling. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say you should continue to cycle if you are comfortable but take extra care, whilst the NHS suggest with the heightened risk of falling you should not cycle at all.
My doctor and midwife were both very supportive of me continuing to keep fit through my pregnancy, and even in my lowest few weeks when suffering with severe morning sickness I managed to get out for a few hours a week cycling or walking (usually trips to the doctors or pharmacy!).
My cycling has changed a little during pregnancy - I'm definitely slower and more cautious, but whilst I am feeling comfortable on the bike and my body is allowing me to ride I am very happy to continue.
At 26 weeks pregnant, my husband and I went for a ride in Swinley forest. As he turned right to go and throw himself around the mountain bike trails on his shiney new mountain bike, I turned left to head off for a solo ride on the wide, smooth firetracks that criss cross the forest.
At first, I was a bit sad that I wasn't getting to ride the trails but as time went on I started to have fun. It was the first time in weeks that I'd felt like a capable, independent woman - something not to be ignored when you're lugging about an extra 9kg of life form and padding.
Pregnancy is a fascinating, hilarious and bizarre experience, leaving you unable to reach your own feet to put socks on, and as a fiercely independent person I will admit to finding parts of it hard.
We all get wake up calls from time to time, and this was mine. It reminded me how much I love riding my bike, the sense of freedom and satisfaction I get from cycling and that I am making good decisions about how I travel, which will impact my children and their whole generation.