Pregnant, still a cyclist. Veloine rider @lulu.on.tour enjoyed a healthy and active pregnancy on and off the bike. In our new blog series, Lulu gives insights into her 'training' routine during pregnancy, how the sport helped her prepare for the birth both mentally and physically, and why every pregnant woman should listen to her gut feeling.
Part 1: How I stayed active during pregnancy
It's a warm day at the end of June. As so often, I get on my bike. On this day I'm riding 800 moa to Feldalm am Walchsee. I'm panting, sweating, and I always keep an eye on my heart rate. Actually, everything is as usual – with one exception.
Shortly before my destination, I get passed by an incredibly fit mountain biker, definitely over 65 years old. My ego is a bit bruised. And then I remember: I am 40 weeks pregnant. I'm not ashamed to say that I also had the support of an e-bike.
I'm not writing this blog post to portray myself as a pregnant machine who cycles to the hospital to give birth and takes a 120 kilometers detour beforehand. Because it wasn't like that at all. Every woman and every pregnancy is completely individual, each of us has her very own story. This is mine.
Listen to your own gut feeling
I am fortunate to look back on an uncomplicated and healthy pregnancy. Still, I was confronted with a lot of prejudices on sports during pregnancy and heard some ignorant and unqualified comments again and again. That is why I would like to share my experience with sports, especially cycling, during pregnancy - how I tried to stay fit during pregnancy, how I prepared for giving birth and how I did afterwards.
Little spoiler: There is only one real advice I can give. Don't compare yourself and your pregnancy to others because it's not a competition. Have trust in your body and your intuition! For me, the advice of my midwife along with my own gut feeling was the most important guidance to follow.
Why exercising matters
Since I didn't have a high-risk pregnancy, I didn't have to miss out on exercise. My midwife even said that I should do everything that I feel like and that is good for me, with the exception of risky sports. It was very clear to me that I was not sick and that I could fully rely on the way my body felt. I only feel good physically and mentally when I get enough exercise.
As soon as you start researching, you will quickly come across the arguments in favor of a sporty pregnancy. Exercise is not only intended to prevent back pain and gestational diabetes and ensure an uncomplicated pregnancy and birth, but also has a positive effect on the baby's health. I wanted to continue training my endurance simply because it is also an advantage during the birth itself. Additionally, adequate exercise prevents excessive weight gain during the 40 weeks of pregnancy. For me, watching my body change wasn't easy at all. By now I’ve become much more gracious with myself. But more on that later.
Training through pregnancy
Once that typical, debilitating fatigue in the first weeks of pregnancy subsided, I got back into “training”. During this initial phase I didn't try to fight the fatigue but allowed myself a lot of sleep and doing nothing. When I got back on the bike, I didn't look at the wattage anymore, I just cycled according to my mood. It was a nice coincidence that my powermeter’s batteries were empty at the beginning of the pregnancy. I only exchanged them now, five months after giving birth to my child.
When ski touring, I avoided difficult descents and, when the snow conditions were poor, I simply walked up the mountain and let the gondola take me down to the valley. I felt incredibly stupid, but I didn't want to risk a fall that could endanger my or the baby's health.
When cycling or doing other endurance activities, I made sure to keep my heart rate low so that there is always enough oxygen in the body. It's amazing what a woman's heart does during pregnancy when about three liters more blood flows through the veins.
Of course, there is a certain risk when cycling. I definitely didn't want to crash. That's why I chose roads with little traffic and paid extra attention to feel safe. Many pregnant cyclists no longer feel comfortable on the road and prefer to switch to gravel bikes or mountain bikes. These little shocks on the bumpy ground were no longer good for my pelvic floor later on, which is why I preferred road cycling. It was great to get on an e-MTB every now and then, so I could still enjoy summits until the end of my pregnancy. I also did indoor cycling, especially in winter.
During pregnancy, a hormone is released that makes the ligaments and tendons more elastic. This helps the body prepare for birth, but it can also lead to injuries such as overstretching more quickly. I noticed this change strongly. Since I don't have the most stable ligaments in my ankles anyway, I only jogged on flat ground to avoid twisting my ankle. Later in my pregnancy I gave up my running shoes for the betterment of my pelvic floor.
Not only because of the problems with the ligaments, cycling remained the most pleasant sport for me right up until birth. Cycling is a sport that is gentle on the joints and does not put excessive strain on the pelvic floor. As my pregnancy progressed, the distances I rode became shorter. And as my belly grew, I became slower.
I noticed that my hands were getting numb more quickly when I was cycling. The doctor said it could be carpal tunnel syndrome, which is quite common. The growing uterus stretches the abdominal muscles to make room for the growing baby. As a result, my abdominal muscles simply could no longer hold my usual handlebar drop. The weight that my core muscles normally carried was completely on my arms, hands and elbows, which is why my hands went numb. I was able to solve this problem by changing my bike position slightly; one or two more spacers under the handlebars were usually enough. This also gave a little more space for my growing belly.
My birth preparation with yoga and breathing exercises
My preparation for the birth was like training for an Ironman. When doing a long-distance race, I had trained for months, and prepared myself mentally for any plan B I might need.
In order to prepare well for birth, I also intensified my yoga and meditation practice. In addition to a fit body, nutrition and especially breathing were super important!
I attended a special yoga course for pregnant women - which I absolutely recommend, because you can't/shouldn't do all the usual asanas with your growing belly. There are also some specific yoga exercises to prepare for birth, which helped me gain a completely different awareness of my pelvic floor and learned how to relax it. I also did breathing exercises almost every day. During birth, the deep, calm breathing actually took away some pain and helped my relax.
Keeping a balanced diet
When it comes to nutrition, there are some approaches that are supposed to have a positive influence on the birth process.
I avoided foods that should generally be avoided (raw fish, etc.) and had a very balanced diet.
By chance I came across the book “50 Simple Things You Should Know About Having Children” by Professor Dr. Louwen. He recommends avoiding sugar and white flour after week 36/37 of your pregnancy, as this is intended to have a positive influence on the natural metabolic and hormonal processes. So from week 31/32 onwards, I kept my diet low in sugar and white flour.
On the estimated day of birth, I had a cycling appointment with friends. I canceled very last minute, as I somehow felt like I needed to save my energy. Then the contractions started that night.
On the start line: The birth
The birth was no coffee ride, but a real power stroke. The opening phase was easy. I was still cleaning the bathroom and kitchen and taking a bath when I noticed that things were slowly starting to get going. I ate a huge bowl so I would have enough strength. As the contractions became more noticeable, I made myself comfortable in bed, breathed and meditated. So I was able to handle the contractions very well. When the midwife arrived, it took another 2-3 hours. And then our baby was born. It was no walk in the park. I was sweating, freezing, vomiting. Still, it was my absolute dream birth, an experience I can't describe in words and more it was more beautiful than I ever imagined. An Ironman or a self-supported ultra race on the bike is comparatively harmless.
The first few months after giving birth were even more challenging for me. More about this and how I got back into training postpartum will follow in part II.