Pedalling while pregnant: The good, the bad and the ugly

With a big, pregnant belly, I cycled to and from work in downtown Ottawa every weekday, right up until my maternity leave began. Some people didn't like it, and they let me know.

CBC's Kristy Nease kept riding her bike to work well into her pregnancy, and got all kinds of reaction

CBC Ottawa's Kristy Nease cycles along Laurier Avenue one day before going on maternity leave. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Yup, I did it.

Sporting a big, pregnant belly, I hopped on my bicycle to commute to and from work in downtown Ottawa nearly every weekday, right up until my maternity leave began in my ninth month. 

Many of you are probably thinking, who cares? And I couldn't agree more.

But some people out there really do seem to care about pregnant people on bikes, and a couple went to weird lengths to let me know just how much.

First, the context: The commute was a total of just under 20 kilometres a day, 16 of them completely segregated from vehicles, on beautiful paths through the Central Experimental Farm and along the Rideau Canal.

I go quite far out of my way for the benefit of this much safer, more enjoyable route, and it was awesome.

Medical team approved

Pregnancy is different for everyone. For me, it was a breeze. I didn't get sick, didn't swell up, didn't overheat, and my back and joints didn't ache. I was very, very lucky — I know it can be really hard on some women, through no fault of their own.

I did have to stop running four months in because of pelvic pain, but cycling was the perfect no-impact exercise to replace it. Both my midwife and family doctor gave the green light.

Baby on board: Cycling alongside the Rideau Canal. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Even on late summer days with the humidex approaching 40, I always felt great. I bought a bike that let me sit upright, so I wouldn't be kneeing myself in the gut. I listened to my body, and I took it easy.

On the days I wasn't able to ride due to poor weather, I generally felt worse. For me — and again, it's not the same for everyone — the exercise felt wonderful.

The reactions

The vast majority of the drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, runners, skateboarders and rollerbladers I passed either didn't notice that I was pregnant, or didn't care. When I did get reactions, they were mostly quick glances at the belly followed by big smiles.

A few times, the eyes went big with shock and followed me as I passed. Some people pointed at me, and a few times they made eye contact and shook their heads in disapproval.

Only twice did any of that negativity become bothersome.

One morning I was stopped at a red light on Bank Street downtown, and a taxi driver pulled up beside me and rolled down his window.

"You must be very brave to be out on the road," he said, but the expression on his face indicated he didn't think it was brave at all — more like the worst thing a pregnant woman could do.

I tried to politely tell him I spend very little time cycling in traffic, but he rolled up his window before I could finish.

'Get off the f--king road'

Another afternoon, I was near the Central Experimental Farm, waiting for the light to change on busy Fisher Avenue after I had pressed the button to cross.

There was a car next to me with the windows down, and I noticed the man driving it was staring in my direction. I thought nothing of it, gently rubbing my belly as the baby kicked a little.

The light finally turned, and as I began peddling, the car next to me hit the gas and turned right — his turn signal hadn't been flashing — very deliberately cutting me off.

"You, get off the f--king road!" the man inside screamed at the top of his lungs.

It was terrifying. Our wheels were inches apart when I slammed my brake. I pulled over to the sidewalk, but by the time I looked up, the licence plate was obscured by other vehicles.

I note with interest that both of those negative experiences involved men who didn't know anything about my pregnancy, or about being pregnant in general.

Irresponsible, or OK?

I've covered enough horrible crashes involving bikes and vehicles to know that I'm taking a risk every time I get on the road, but I'm also a confident, longtime cyclist who has learned from experience to assume any vehicle could take a hard turn into me at any moment.

Getting to and from work is a risk, no matter how you're doing it — by bus, by car, by bike, even by foot — pedestrians get struck by vehicles, too.

What do you think? Is it irresponsible to bike while pregnant, or is it OK?

Sound off in the comments below.


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