After recently being accused of discrimination against women because I didn’t accept pregnant women onto my mountain bike skills courses or guided rides, I decided I needed to stop and question my reasoning for saying no.
As a professional working in the outdoor industry we are used to taking clients on potentially dangerous activities in a range of environments and adapting those activities to meet the needs of different clients / groups. Over the years I’ve ridden with people whose spines were plated back together after being blown up in Iraq, riders with epilepsy and diabetes and no doubt a whole load of people who didn’t tell me about any additional needs they might have for fear of me telling them they couldn’t come riding (which still, despite our ‘can do’ attitude seems to happen). I’ve not (yet) been mountain biking with a pregnant woman, and have never had to turn someone down for a course because they were pregnant. All the same I decided it was time to question my rationale and try and ascertain whether I was unfairly treating pregnant women as if they had a medical condition, wrapping them up in cotton wool, or worse discriminating against them.
With no first hand knowledge of pregnancy (being a bloke is a limiting factor in that area) I had to turn to the mums I know, and the internet.
The vast majority of information on sports that are safe to do while pregnant seem to point toward a few common themes, namely;
- don’t start new, vigourous activities you’ve not done before
- avoid activities that require balance
- take regular gentle excercise, but avoid heat and strenuous activity
- do not take part in activities that risk impact
- (such advise and more is summarised and compared across a number of countries here; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4206837/ )
That seemed to me to be a pretty good indicator that my ‘no hurtling through the woods while pregnant’ mindset wasn’t too far off the mark, but all the same I felt some further reading was needed. Now the articles that I came across next were all from the point of view of a knowledgable and experienced participant choosing to continue an activity they already did, with some ‘pregnancy modifications’. This is a very dfferent standpoint to the one I must come at this from as a leader, responsible for the safety and wellbeing of my clients, all of them. As such I think I’m still leaning toward the attitude that if a competent female mountain biker came to me and said “I’m pregnant, know my limits but still want to do a skills course / guided ride with you” I would still currently lean towards a response along the lines of “I suggest you wait until you’ve given birth and then come back when the consequences of a crash are only the same as they are for any other member of the group” – but I’m waiting for professional guidance on whether this response is over the top.
First is this blog from Lyndsey, a regular biker who continued to ride well into her pregnancy. Please note she continued to ride, but on non technical terrain. Some of our low level guided rides may fall into a similar remit, but largely what Lyndsey did, and what we do, are distinctly different in terms of difficulty and more importantly risk. The next blogs discuss the changes in physical ability the riders found, and their own descision to reduce the technicality of their riding and risks they took.
Not satisfied with just these articles I kept looking, not finding much that really added anything beyond personal experience, which while might be of motivational support to expectant mothers, was of little use to me in developing a formal risk management strategy for including pregnant women on our skills courses or rides.
There are numerous articles across a range of activities where pregnant women share their own experiences (including this climber who has combined some hard medical research in, but sadly not the right sport for my research – http://bethrodden.com/2016/03/climbing-pregnant-medical-study-results/ ) but all of the guidance I could find supported the same ideas outlined above.
This article on climbing outlines a few of the risks of falls (while climbing). The posibility of a crash while riding is always there, and if a rider is experiencing new physical shape (the addition of the bump) and potentially reduced balance that indicates to me that it is fair to assume the risk of a crash increases in pregnant women (compared broadly to non pregnant women, or men).
Ultimately I couldn’t find sufficient information to educate myself well enough on the risks and consequences that are unique to pregnant women for me to be able to change my stance. I hope that doesn’t mean I am discriminating against pregnant women, and as British Cycling say in this article “if people have cycled regularly beforehand, then they should simply take extra care.”
I’m not sure that coming on a wilderness bikepacking trip, a guided ride into the wilds of Snowdonia, or a mountain bike skills course really counts as “taking extra care”, but would love to hear your thoughts, and if any Dr’s or medical professionals can add anything to these insights they would be very welcome.
Carbon-Monkey are a specialist MTB skills course provider who run mountainbike courses in North Wales, the Lake District, Peak District, Scotland and on Cannock Chase. We grew up riding the trails of Snowdonia and MTB all over North Wales. From Jumps and Drops courses to multi day MTB expeditions, at Carbon-Monkey we are ready to welcome you on a MTB skills course that will provide real improvement to your riding. MTB skills are our passion and Bikepacking adventure expeditions our escapism, when will you join us?