by Emily Balkam
One of my first concerns when I found out I was pregnant was, “Can I still bike to work?” My 8 mile commute is only 45 minutes by bike compared to 90 minutes via public transit. I’m now in my third trimester and still bike commuting. Here are 10 tips that have helped me make it this far:
- Get Your Doctor’s Approval: Talk to your Doctor about biking. If you have a high risk pregnancy or medical complications, exercise may be limited or not allowed. Have the conversation early and it’s one less thing to worry about.
- Plan a Safe Route: Sometimes the most direct route isn’t the safest. Take some time to plan a route that uses bike lanes or quieter streets using Google Maps or Ride the City. Not finding good infrastructure for your commute? Think about volunteering with a your local bike activist group: The Boston Cyclists Union, Somerville Bike Committee, Cambridge Bike Committee, Brookline Bikes, and MassBike, to name a few. You can also send an email to your local government officials or alderman for your specific district. Provide your address and urge them to support safer streets for you and your growing family.
- Balance: This is probably not the best time to learn to ride if you haven’t done it before. I’ve been biking regularly since I was a child. I’m making a point to keep it up, biking at least 2x a week and doing indoor balance exercises on bad weather days. So far, I haven’t noticed any issues with balance while riding. However, I am slower and get winded faster (both very normal as pregnancy advances). You could always test out how you feel on a stationary bike at a gym if you know how to ride but are feeling a bit rusty.
- Nausea: Some women struggle with “morning sickness” throughout their pregnancy or in the first 8 weeks or so. I’m not sure why they call it morning sickness, as you can have it at any time of day or night. I felt the worst around 2 pm in the first trimester, but found biking to/from works actually made me feel better, as long as I hadn’t just eaten. Experiment with eating breakfast at work, rather than before you leave. In my second trimester, I needed 2 small breakfasts, one when I first woke up, and another at my desk. Lunch was just too far away and being “hangry” isn’t going to help your career or your health.
- Swelling: I’m into my third trimester and haven’t had any issues with back pain or swelling to date. I polled a few new moms at a “Biking with Kids” event, and several mentioned they were able to ride right up through week 39 without any swelling. They credited keeping active throughout their pregnancy. Exercise in general can help with circulation (and better sleep!)
- Cut Yourself Some Slack: Give yourself a break if you need it. If you feel sick, didn’t sleep well, or if the weather is crappy, there’s no shame in taking the subway or bus. People will pass you if you’re going slowly, and that’s fine too. Allow extra time for your commute as you will likely slow down a bit as your pregnancy progresses. Don’t forget to take water breaks on hot days.
- Clothes and Gear: Halfway through my second trimester, I could no longer zip my reflective jacket. I found a great reflective strap that goes around my torso, for only $8 at Wheelworks in Somerville. It is adjustable and even fits over my puffy winter maternity coat. As always, layers are key. Your hormones may make you feel cold one minute and hot the next, even if you’re normally a tough cookie who doesn’t care. Better to be prepared than miserable.
- Consider a Cruiser: If you have a road bike, consider getting a step-through cruiser. You will likely find the upright position and cushy seat worth it. It’s much easier to get on and off and you don’t have to swing your leg behind you, which can awkwardly counterbalance with your belly. I was worried a cruiser would be super heavy like a Hubway, but it is comparable to my hybrid and an internal derailleur makes for a smoother ride. Check out Bicycle Belle in Porter Square for a large selection of commuting cruisers and expert advice. They also carry several options for biking with kids for later.
- Baskets: I also invested in a basket that goes over the back wheel. I find a back wheel basket is much more stable than one on the front, which can affect your balance if you’re packing a computer, heavy purse, lunch, groceries, etc. Extra bonus: I don’t have to wear a messenger bag or backpack anymore.
- Relaxed, yet Focused: I find fresh air and sunshine is much more relaxing than trying to shoehorn my way onto a stuffy subway without anyone bashing into my belly or pretending they didn’t see me/avoiding my gaze so they don’t have to offer up their seat (it’s so awkward to ask, even when you feel a bit unwell). Bike commuting is a great way to stay fit and enjoy your commute. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to daydream and lose focus on the road and people around you. Street safety is key, just like before you were expecting. All the rules still apply: Bright lights at night, obey traffic laws, use clear signals, and make eye contact with drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists
I hope these tips help you become a more confident rider during your pregnancy so you can make the most of your bicycle commute. Pregnancy is great – why not enjoy the ride?
We’ve heard from several of our members who are dedicated to commuting by bicycle that there have been both new challenges and adjustments to make upon becoming pregnant and continuing to ride. We know that some of you may continue to ride throughout your pregnancy — and hope you find Emily’s tips to be really useful! We understand that some may not be able to keep riding at a certain point, either due to personal comfort, perceived and real safety concerns, and sometimes, judgement from others. We are committed to pushing for Bikeways for Everybody, so that every person who wants to bike has a place where they feel safe, including families, people biking with children, and women who are pregnant.
Also, if you bike with your children, there is an email list, Boston Area Family Bike, that you may be interested in joining! You can follow this link to sign up for the list: https://groups.google.com/