Riding Bikes Into and Through Pregnancy

May 07, 2021

Each year in May we celebrate moms with their own day. This year, we wanted to shine a light on moms who balance motherhood with their need to ride while maintaining healthy pregnancies and happy babies. The following are three different experiences from our Crew members. Two reflecting back on riding while pregnant, Teresa Tarn and Cooper Ott, and Mallory Miller currently pregnant and adjusting to the changes.

Thanks to all our moms out there balancing their rides and their families. You are pretty amazing.

– Teresa Tarn –

Mountain Biker and PMBIA certified coach, she aims to help others feel similarly empowered both on and off the trail.

Teresa and her husband holding her baby on the saddle of a mountain bike in the yard.
Teresa getting her son started early on the bike.

Imagine chugging a gallon of milk right before a ride. That’s what some days biking while pregnant felt like. So why did I do it? Because I needed to feel like it was my body again, and I was still the person I was before pregnancy. I don’t think it comes as a shock to anyone to say that carrying and nourishing a baby brings about dramatic changes to a woman’s body. At times, the changes can be so dramatic and sudden that your body becomes foreign to you. During those times, I needed to hop on my bike, big bulbous belly and all, and go for a pedal on dirt.

In the beginning, I did encounter guilt when pedaling for two. Was this selfish of me to be doing this? Was I exposing us to excessive danger? Reading some of the popular pregnancy forums did not help. There, I encountered a passive-aggressive shame culture. “Biking while pregnant? Well, I would never.” A lot of the pushback was binary – either you do what’s best for the child or don’t, and you’re a terrible parent. Many vocal people out there strongly think mountain biking while pregnant was in the “not best for the child” category.

I got over this guilt by making peace because mountain biking was necessary for me, and therefore the baby, to be healthy. Not doing so has always made me cranky and unwell; pregnancy hormones and the sudden introduction to a million new concerns I never knew existed enhanced those adverse effects. Pedaling on dirt, tilting into turns, navigating through obstacles gave me a respite from this influx of anxiety. It distracted me from the tsunami of what-ifs. Despite riding more cautiously than I used to, despite wearing my husband’s clothes because none of mine fit (except for PEARL iZUMi Women’s Pro bib shorts), I was still me. I was still a mountain biker who just so happened to be becoming a mom soon.

Mountain biking became a great bonding activity for me and my little belly alien. I was excited to tell it about the trails we were on, what obstacles were coming up, how I would ride it that day, and how that compared to how I’d usually ride it. One of the funnest things I’ve been told about parenthood is sharing your passions with your children. Biking during pregnancy was one of the earliest ways I experienced that joy. It made the future, complete with all its unknowns, that much more exciting.

New maternal instincts brought about new riding routines that mitigated risk. At first, I rode pretty similarly to how I had before, albeit slower due to awareness of carrying precious cargo and the wonderful nausea of the first trimester. As the physical changes sped up, I slowed down and narrowed my trail options even more. By the third trimester, I struggled to shift my weight forward with such a big belly and keep weight on the front wheel, so my trail options were limited to the few familiar trails I could wiggle up. Even so, some of those latter rides were the best because it was then that I felt most confident in my body and its ability to have fun on the bike while keeping my baby and me safe.

The comfort I had mountain biking while pregnant is a culmination of years of doing the activity. I feel more in control on my bike in many trail situations than if I were walking on my perpetually flimsy ankles. Every pregnancy is unique and special in its own way, and this is what worked for me. It reunited me with my body. It brought me back to who I was. It brought me closer to the eyeball and arm I had just created inside me. For me and my first time, mountain biking and looking like a vertical turtle moving backward on the trail significantly helped me navigate the weird and wonderful world of pregnancy.

– Cooper Ott –

Professional mountain biker loves sharing her passion for riding with others in hopes that they find the same joy in it.

Cooper Ott holding her baby with mountains in the background.
Catching up on snuggles after a ride in Fruita, Colo.

The Before:

As a professional athlete, the thought of being pregnant always scared me. What would my sponsors think? When would be the best time to have a baby? Would it end my bike career? My husband and I always knew we wanted to have kids just didn’t know when. So when we found out in June 2020 that I was pregnant, we couldn’t have been more excited. With covid destroying the race schedule, it seemed like the timing was perfect. I was still able to ride and coach all summer and fall while I grew a tiny human. When it came time to announce the exciting news, I was overwhelmed by the amount of support not only from our friends and family but also from my sponsors. Riding and racing have always been about sharing my passion with others and getting the next generation of riders excited about bikes. This was a dream come true. We were going to get to raise a little human of our own and hopefully get them stoked on riding!

The return to riding:

I was very active during the pregnancy, riding all summer/fall and skiing when the trails got too snowy to ride. Actually, I skinned up little Cranor Ski Hill just 3 days before giving birth to my daughter! In my mind, I imagined getting home from the hospital and hopping right on the trainer that I insisted on leaving up all winter despite my husband’s many attempts to put it away. Turns out riding a bike was the last thing on my mind. People would call/text me to congratulate me on the new arrival of our daughter and ask if I was ready to get back in the saddle. My response was always, “NO! I can’t even think about getting back on my bike right now!” Between the lack of sleep and trauma my body endured, I was in survival mode. We had breastfeeding troubles (something I feel needs to be talked about more) early on, which resulted in even less sleep, and biking got pushed even further back in my mind. Before giving birth, I would fall asleep at night, planning my activity for the next day. What would my workout be? How long would I go? Now, I would fall asleep thinking about how many minutes of sleep I would be getting before I would have to get up for another pumping/feeding session.

Then one day in the middle of week three, a switch flipped. Suddenly, I was falling asleep planning my return to the bike and hoping that the doctor would give me permission to get back on the road bike at the four-week appointment. I counted down the days and sneaked in little test rides running errands around town, which felt surprisingly good! When I asked at the four-week appointment if we could talk about riding again, the doctor said, “I am fine with you starting to do easy rides again if you are feeling up for it. BUT, I know you like to do gnarly things, and you shouldn’t do that stuff yet…” I assured her that nothing gnarly would be happening on the road bike, and that afternoon I passed the baby off to Grandma and kitted up! Luckily cycling clothes are stretchy and fit my four-week postpartum body without a problem, and I headed out the door.

The expression, “It’s like riding a bicycle,” is not exactly true for a body that just went from having an almost eight-pound baby inside and losing a significant amount of weight overnight. People had warned me that my balance might be off while pregnant, but they hadn’t warned me about the balance issues once you gave birth to the baby. It took me a few rides to feel stable standing up on the pedals again and a few more rides to feel like I could safely reach for my water bottle again.

Despite the balance troubles, riding felt SO GOOD! I started sacrificing naps for rides which left me equally energized and feeling more like myself. After a few road rides, I was ready to pick up my mountain bike again. My first few rides back on dirt, I felt my mind hesitating to go fast since I spent the previous mountain bike season riding for two and always thinking about the precious cargo I held. I told myself that it was okay to let go of the brake levers and feel the thrill of riding through rock gardens at speed once again. Rides got longer and faster, and instead of the post-ride hangout, I would pack up quickly and head home for post-ride baby snuggles!

– Mallory Miller –

Electrochemist by day, gravel and road cyclist by night, riding to improve, build self-esteem, and nurture self-awareness through outdoor adventures.

Mallory posing for a photo in her PEARL iZUMi kit with her baby bump showing
Mallory showcasing the only pair of comfortable bibs for a pregnant belly, the Women’s Pro Bibs.

Cycling is such an integral part of my life, it just makes sense to keep pedaling. I have continued riding because I’m not really sure what I’d do if I had to stop. Especially with COVID and working from home, for me, cycling is the best way to decompress and just get outside. Plenty of studies also show that exercise while pregnant is highly beneficial, and my doctor has been very supportive of this. Although I did seek out an ob-gyn, who works with athletes. 😉

In the past, I’ve always had pretty clear goals outlined for racing and training. Since becoming pregnant, my goals have changed dramatically, as expected, and training has become much more of a “go with the flow” approach. My focus now is to keep moving and stay active while maintaining a healthy pregnancy. I’m so used to pushing past my physical and mental limits that I’ve been challenged with truly listening to my body. It’s become so much more important to recognize when to back off or when I just need a rest day, and that’s okay. In many ways, it has become easier to accept what my body needs because I now must consider my new riding partner. Which I’m sure will prove beneficial in the long run, too.

Initially, I had the expectation that I could continue to ride and train as I usually would. I had erroneously assumed that pregnancy would start off ‘easy’ and get progressively more demanding, but that hasn’t been the case. By far, the first trimester has been the most challenging. I did not feel well most of the time and had very little energy or motivation to do anything. However, I would still commit to simply getting on my bike. If I felt terrible, I could stop, but I had to at least feel it out for 15 minutes. I also did a fair amount of cross-country skiing to mix it up. Staying active and just getting out for some fresh air actually helped with some of the symptoms and made me feel much better.

The second trimester has been great! Really after week 12, I began to feel more like myself and was able to start doing longer rides (albeit with just as long naps afterward). Also, I now have more realistic expectations of what my pregnant body can handle as far as workload and volume and the amount of rest I need.

One of the biggest surprises about riding while pregnant so far is that some of my kit still fits! I’m kind of amazed and very thankful at how stretchy they are. Another pleasant surprise is that I’m still able to do rides with a significant amount of climbing…just at a slower pace. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Overall, riding while pregnant has definitely been a learning experience. I hope that other athletic moms-to-be can gain something from this. I know I’ve found other pregnant cyclists’ blogs to be extremely helpful and motivational (in addition to advice from my doctor, of course). If anything, my biggest takeaways (so far) and things I wish I knew going into riding while pregnant: Give yourself a break, set realistic expectations, and just do what feels good. It’s hard work exercising and growing a tiny human. Recognize that each day is different, so be sure to listen to your body (and your doctor) and go with the flow. Some days, riding will be a struggle – but let yourself accept that it’s okay to rest. On the days you feel great, that’s the time to get after it. Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy the ride!

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