Adrenaline bursts through my veins setting fire to my heart as I hit the first sketchy rock roller on my favorite trail. I hold my breath as my stomach is catapulted into my throat causing me to question my sanity while the knobby tires grip the decomposed granite for dear life. Yet, in that chaotic moment, I feel most alive.
I got my first bike in 2018 and my love for the sport grew quickly. I was riding daily and setting insane goals while hitting features many of my friends would shy away from. When I became pregnant with my first baby my sense of self was threatened, and I wondered how I would continue to feel like me.
I continued to ride throughout my pregnancy not letting the judgmental stares and unsolicited advice from strangers deter me. I assumed after having my baby, I would be right back on the bike, ripping the trails and hitting gnarly features like nothing happened. Boy was I wrong.
Crippled by postpartum depression and anxiety, I fought every day to just stay afloat, to remember who I was. I didn’t know how to navigate these new struggles. Fluctuating hormones triggered self-doubt in all aspects of my life and the things that made me feel like me, took a backseat. I felt like a failure.
I tuned into social media and watched pros like Sonya Looney and Laura King have babies, breastfeed, and get right back on the bike without any self-doubt or roadblocks along the way. Their bodies snapped back while I stared in the mirror at a body I didn’t recognize. Sadly, I assumed there was something wrong with ME.
Comparison is the thief of joy -Theodore Roosevelt
Watching highlight reels of the women I admired had me thinking- ‘They probably ARE struggling with self-image and motivation’. Rationally, I could grasp the fact that most of the time, we don’t get to see the raw, unedited version of others’ struggles.
Yet, I couldn’t stop comparing myself to others. This vicious cycle of self-doubt and comparison only made my depression and anxiety worse.
Every postpartum journey is different. Society has put so much pressure on women to “bounce” back after giving birth. There’s this perception that we should be able to get back to ourselves both mentally and physically, but that just isn’t reality.
Your life is flipped upside down when you have a baby and now your priorities change. You’re not just responsible for your own life, now you’re responsible for your child.
It took me a long time to get above water. Trudging through postpartum depression and breastfeeding was REALLY difficult. With time, I was able to find a new, more fulfilled version of myself while being a mom.
Give yourself some grace
That’s right, give yourself grace. Having a baby is one of the most strenuous and beautiful things our bodies can do. It is by no means easy.
Whether you deliver unmedicated or medicated, in water or by cesarean section, our bodies go through so much stress and trauma. This trauma is usually internalized because society teaches us that the act of birth is something natural, so why would it be traumatizing?
What society fails to mention is the flood of hormones and changes that take over in such a short period of time. Be kind to yourself and ask for help. Take the time you need to recover.
There is no need to “bounce” back. Jumping back on the bike too quickly can actually do more harm than good.
When I was 3-months postpartum I went on a ride with a few of my girlfriends. I was so excited to finally see them, yet I felt an immense amount of guilt from being away from my baby. The trail we were riding was super gnarly, made up of 3 miles of chunky, technical downhill. I was crippled by anxiety the entire time and couldn’t focus on the trail.
All I wanted to do was cry but I feared being judged by my friends. I didn’t want them to think I was weak. I wanted them to remember the strong, confident friend they always rode with.
Trying to tackle that gnarly trail was something I wasn’t ready for. All it did was make me scared of features I once demolished.
There is no shame in taking time. Get to learn about this new person you’ve become and enjoy the baby snuggles. The bike will be there when you get ready.
How do I know if I’m ready?
Every birth experience is different. If you had an easy delivery without any perineal/urethral tearing, then you might be ready to get back on the saddle right away.
If you had any tearing, it might take longer for you to feel comfortable. Maybe you had an elective c-section or had to have one because of fetal distress, either way, only you know your body.
Waiting until your body is ready is essential. It’s normal to wait 6-10 weeks before resuming any sort of physical activity, but some women get back just days after having their baby.
Others may take a few months before they become physically active again. Regardless of when you get back on the saddle, the best advice I can offer is not to compare your journey to others. Just because your friend was back on the bike a week after having a baby doesn’t mean you need to be.
Ready to ride
The first time back on your bike might be intimidating. Your body has changed, and things might feel a little different. You’re regaining your balance and composure on the bike, and that’s totally normal.
There is nothing wrong with taking a few steps back and relearning how to ride. You might need to adjust the air pressure on your suspension components to accommodate your new weight.
You might need a new women’s specific saddle to alleviate pressure on your sit bones. All these things are normal and nothing to be ashamed about.
It took me about 6 months after having my son to fully feel like myself again, on and off the bike. Right now, I’m only 7 weeks postpartum with my daughter and am slowly feeling like myself. I can tell you this time it’s a much more joyful experience without the added pressure of getting back on the bike.
There are so many aspects that go into riding bikes after having a baby. Not only do we have a huge, gaping wound in our uterus, but now we are responsible for feeding this new, beautiful life.
You might choose to exclusively formula feed, combo feed, or breastfeed. Remember, any way YOU choose to feed your baby is the right way.
If you plan to breastfeed your baby, you will have to consider how long you can ride before needing to feed or pump. Luckily, there are portable pumps like the Elvie or Willow that allow you to ride for longer without worrying about losing your supply.
The first 3 months of breastfeeding are the most important because your milk supply is not regulated until roughly the 12-week mark. You want to make sure you’re regularly removing milk in those first 3 months.
The rule of thumb for breastfeeding and/or pumping is to remove milk every 3 hours until your supply has been established. After that, it varies on how often your baby is eating. Just remember, breastfeeding can be extremely difficult and there is nothing wrong with getting help for you and your baby.
How I breastfed/pumped and rode my bike
If I was going on a short mountain or gravel ride, I would get completely dressed in my kit, shoes on, the bike ready to roll, and then nurse my son. I would then make sure there was at least one bottle in the fridge in case he needed a little extra while I was gone and tried to be home within 3 hours to feed again.
That winter I was training for a long gravel race and would sometimes be on the bike for more than 3 hours. That’s where a portable pump can come in handy.
If you have a handlebar bag, backpack, or hip pack that you ride with, you can easily store a breast pump and either ride with it on or stop and eat a snack while pumping. A more frugal option is a manual hand pump* and a great way to quickly remove milk.
Once my son started eating solid food, I could go longer between pump sessions and riding became much easier and more accessible for me.
Making mom-friends on the bike
One thing that helped me get on the bike after having my son was my good friend, Lauren. She had a baby right after I did, and we decided to train for a race together.
Our bodies were slowly starting to feel normal and together we got through our postpartum journeys. Having a friend to talk to and learn about the new challenges of motherhood, helped me more than anything.
It reunited my love for the bike and allowed me some “self-care” time. Without her support and willingness to ride in the freezing cold, I would not have survived my crippling postpartum depression.
The first child feels like an experiment. You go to the hospital not knowing that your life is going to be turned upside down. The nurses and doctors send you home with a baby that you have no clue how to take care of.
You feel thrown into the arena without any tools for the job. No armor, no swords, just naked and exposed to the elements.
I have learned so much since having my son. When I got pregnant with my daughter in November 2021, I knew I needed a plan. Leading up to her due date, I contacted my lactation nurse, pediatric dentist, and chiropractor. I was ready to tackle anything that could go wrong.
When she was born, I utilized all the tools that I had learned from birthing and feeding my son. Things went so much smoother thanks to trial and error with my firstborn.
I learned that it’s ok to take time to heal. It’s ok to enjoy your baby without feeling like you need to bounce back and jump on the bike. I learned to give myself grace and time. I learned that the things I love aren’t going anywhere.
In the grand scheme of things, I learned that time goes by so fast. The newborn stage can seem like one long never-ending sleepless night, but it’s not. Before you know it, you’re riding the bike with your son on the MacRide.
So, take your time. Enjoy the process of motherhood in all its messy, sometimes painful, and ugly glory. Be proud of your body for creating such an amazing little creature.
When you look in the mirror and start to hate what you see, just remember that you are more than your body. You have overcome mountains before you will overcome them again. You’re a conqueror and a warrior, but most importantly and pressingly, you are now the most important person to your baby.
Your bike doesn’t care if you ride or don’t ride, but your baby’s well-being and happiness depend entirely on your ability to decide what’s right for both of you. Learning what YOU need, when you need it, will allow you to prioritize your baby’s health while continuing to do the things you love.