Thursday, August 13, 2009

Car Free Pregnant and With an Infant

Since our two year anniversary of car-freedom, a lot of folks have asked me about riding pregnant or with an infant. They hear "two years" and look at our youngest child and the question inevitably pops up, especially from other families who might want to give it a try! I am more than happy to share our experiences because that's exactly how we are figuring this out too. It's exciting to see so many other families on the same path and to benefit from and contribute to this new wealth of information. So here goes.

We sold our last car when I was seven months pregnant with Anders. When I was pregnant with Samuel, I was only able to ride until 7.5 months. The reason was that I had a race bike and my belly crowded out my knees at that point. So there was one consideration, pedal room. Another obstacle was breathing room. My belly quickly crowded out my lungs and I needed a more "open" body position to breath. My doctor gave me the ok to ride with 2 restrictions. 1) I had to stop when my balance got "iffy" and 2) I couldn't pedal so hard that I couldn't carry on a conversation. With these things in mind, we chose to buy a recumbent tadpole trike. A recumbent gave me room to breath and pedal and the trike portion made it so that I couldn't tip over as my center of gravity and balance got less reliable.

Common wisdom says you can't carry an infant by bike. But what if you're car-free? There has to be a way. We did find some mom's putting the infant car-seat in the bucket of a bakfietz. Good idea, but at 3000 it was a bit costly for us. The dutch also had a rack that attaches an infant car-seat to the back of a bike with a suspension system. Also a good idea, but we didn't find any available in the USA. As it turned out, the trike also worked we for carrying an infant by bike, especially in the winter, as Anders was born in mid October. I put him in a moby-wrap on my chest and leaned back in the trike. I adjusted the seat angle to be comfortable for him. The moby-wrap was nice because it was not bulky on my back. The baby-bijorn active was good too, because although it has a back pad, the pad doesn't have any lumps or buckles so it's comfortable to lean against. Keeping Anders the perfect temperature was supper easy this way! I just put one of Anthony's coats over the two of us. I left the top un-zipped and put a warm hat on his head. For my exposed neck, I put on a thick wool scarf. This way he could have fresh air. I could feel his temperature easily as he was against my body. When his feet got longer, we added leather booties and wool socks for him. We traveled this way at about 25F for an hour and a half and he was still toasty warm. I think the coldest temps we ever reached were about 7F (but for a shorter time) and he was still warm and cosy!

In this way, my body acted as a stabilizer for his neck and head and a shock absorber and warmer for him. I can say in riding around with him, he was more stable than being carried. We had spoken with our family doctor to find out the considerations for transporting an infant. In his opinion the biggest concern is that the baby is not jostled as the neck muscles have not yet sufficiently developed in the infant to stabilize the head and neck. He also said that once Anders showed good head control, he could transfer over to the infant sling in our chariot trailer, and that should be between 3-5 months of age. As it turned out, Anders got big fast and his favorite game was pushing off my legs and up on my chin! He would lift his head and look around as we rode around about 3 months. At around 3.5 months we tried walking with him in the trailer in the infant sling. He was very secure. We then tried riding that way with me pulling and Anthony watching him inside the trailer. There was not a wiggle. Being re-assured of his stability in the trailer with the infant sling and his neck-strength. We went ahead and switched him over to the trailer, but only on smooth sidewalks and going very slow (that's all I could do anyway!). This worked very well. It was still cold, but we put him in the primaloft snow suit we'd made for Samuel the year before. Inside the trailer, he was toasty warm!

This set-up worked very well. Anders traveled this way until he was 9 months old, and he started crawling into big brothers seat and looking hopefully at us, so we switched him at that point to the trailer with no support. Shortly after we switched to the double seat on the Big Dummy.

To some it may seem like a bit of an expense to get a trike just for the pregnancy and carrying an infant. It didn't turn out to be that bad, though. We bought it at about 1500, and sold it for 1000 18 months later after both me and another mom used it as I described. A car payment for 18 months would have been a lot more than 500. It worked out to be pretty economical! :)

In summing up, I'd say it worked out pretty well. If I were going to have another baby, I'd probably do it this way again. I was able to ride clear up to a week before Anders was born! I turned in my hospital registration with a bike helmet on--boy that gave the nurses a scare!! They thought I was coming to have the baby! LOL I was able to get on the bike again 4 days after the birth because the seat was so wide and spread the weight over my whole back and seat rather than applying pressure on child-birth-injured areas like a traditional bike seat does. The biggest challenge I'd say is having patience with myself as I would watch my athletic capabilities decrease and decrease as time went on. Doing all that riding, I expected to get stronger and stronger. But my lungs would get smaller as the baby grew and my energy level would go down and down and down as the baby's demands increased. By the end of the pregnancy, riding up the gentle 15 foot hill to our apartment was slower than walking! Riding on flats was fine, but the trike wasn't all that efficient on hills and I had very little oxygen left by the end.