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.

12 comments:

Charlotte said...

I have been contemplating this a lot lately. It looks like a perfect scenario for many, but in Boston I fear being so low relative to traffic. There's more room on the Colorado roads, I think I would feel safer out there.
There is also a Massachusetts state law that says you can't carry a baby under the age of one on a bicycle. They say nothing about tricycles or trailers. I don't feel comfortable with the idea of a trailer for the same reason (low), so I'm at a bit of a loss.
I guess I should test ride a recumbent trike, see what I really think of it.

The Stouts said...

Hi Charlotte,

Thanks for reading. Keep thinking about it, I am sure you will be able to figure out how to do transport kids in your city. It just takes a little creativity. Let me know what you figure out too!

At first my biggest concern was visibility too. In my particular area, this proved to be a non-issue. I was such an interesting contraption on the road that drivers were actually much more attentive. They gave me a lot of room and slowed way down. We also have enough bike lanes that I could steer-clear of rods that don't have good bike lanes and I took a lot of multi-use paths. I usually stick to the road now, but back then I was going so slow that the path felt safer. I was a lot closer to walking speed than driving speed, so the MUPS were a better fit. I was super careful at every intersection and the few smatterings of drive-ways though, especially if there were tall plants blocking visibility.

I think the key to visibility on the low trike is how close together traffic is. If there is low enough traffic volume that a driver can see you from a ways off as they are coming up on you, it's no problem. I would be a bit more concerned in heavier traffic where cars are tightly packed and might have less time to see you ahead of them.


Another super helpful thing is good lighting. We have amber colored flashing lights on the rear (white on the front) that are ridiculously bright. 140 Lumens on the tail lights and 200 Lumens on the headlight. We got them from Dinotte. They are a little more costly than what most folks expect to pay for a bike light, but they are also not what most people expect for brightness either. Cars treat me noticeably different when I have these lights on. I consider them a must. I can see Anthony from 1/2 mile away with his light on. Friends who pass us on the road tell us they saw us from as far as a mile away. They are light weight too. I put one on the front of my bike and one on the kid trailer (along with a flag with 3M reflective tape sewn on it) and run them in flashing mode in the day.


One more thing that makes me feel a lot safer on the road is a really good mirror on my glasses. We use one made by Take A Look. It's highly adjustable and then I can see if traffic sees me, if they are giving me enough room and get out of the path of danger if they are not. As a bonus, people will ask you if you have an antenna on your head when you go shopping! ;) You can make up all sorts of ridiculous answers to make yourself laugh!


There is also an upright trike I've seen around that has cruiser body positioning that would probably work for pregnancy and baby toting. I'm not sure of the brand, but I think it was pretty inexpensive.


Good luck and keep me posted!
N

Longleaf Bicycles said...

Interesting post, we have an eight day old and my wife was able to ride her bike throughout the pregnancy. She has a Danish city bike so the belly was out of the way.

I second the Dinotte tailights--they're amazing and can be seen in the day easily. Cars behave differently when you're riding with one.

We're going to go with a bakfiets. I hadn't considered a recumbent trike, but a recumbent wouldn't work in the downtown we live in. The visibility is too poor with cars often parked illegally right up to the every corner making it hard to see. I get scared taking bents for test rides when they've come into the shop for repair. But glad it works for you.

I'm interested to learn more about the infant car seat on back rack adapter you mentioned. It would be a great advantage if it allows people to use their current bike to carry their infant. Do you know the brand name of the product. I have some industry contacts in the Netherlands and perhaps they could be imported.

Charlotte said...

Thanks N!
I really am thinking about it, and here are some of the resources I've found:

* My husband loves this childseat for his Brompton
* Baby Backpack!
* I've heard you can find Burleys that turn into running strollers? That would be convenient.
* Carseat in a bakfiets, and with a raincover
* Upright with a snuggly

The bakfiets looks the safest of the options in the first year, but I have no idea how I'd park it. I've actually been looking around my neighborhood for an unused corner I might be able to rent like a parking space.

No matter what bike I end up with it's going to be lit up like a Christmas tree with your Dinottes and Planet Bike superflashes. I think a bright flag is in order, and if we go the trailer route I'm going to get my mom to embroider the back with the 3M Scotchlite making the phrase Make Way for Ducklings. That might tickle the fancy of Bostonians, and make them think.

I will definitely look at the tricycles, I think you might be thinking of Workman's?

Thanks for helping people think through this!

The Stouts said...

Charlotte,

The workman's trike was definitely the one I saw around town. Thanks for all the links!

We also used planet bike flashers. They are a good light for the money. We put two of those on the back of the trailer with a Dinotte too. The Dinotte is a lot brighter than the Planet Bike lights, but I still think the PB help. I love the ducklings idea!

I think the Bakfietz is a great way to go, especially early on in parenthood. You'll get a lot of years out of it for your money. They ought to have financing on these like they do for cars. I know they do in Portland. More families would go this way if there was good financing. If I were a banker...

Longleaf Bicycles,

I did a search for that infant carrier and couldn't find it! If I come across it again, I'll post the link. I remember there was very little information on the site. Not much more than a couple pictures. I hope you can find it, it would be so empowering to parents to have an easy option for toting infants.

-N

The Stouts said...

Longleaf-

I found something similar, I haven't read up on it and don't know how safe it is, but here's the link:

http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/2009/01/20/test-carrying-a-newborn-on-a-bike/

and

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10392335@N07/3211068564/

Cheers!

Longleaf Bicycles said...

N,

Call me Anthony. Too bad, I am acquainted with Henry of Work Cycles and if he says it is too bouncy to safely transport an infant I'd trust his judgment. Work Cycles makes their own "bridge" with a foam pad to protect infant from road bumps when traveling in a Maxi Cosi in a bakfiets.

The Stouts said...

One of the big reasons we went this route, that I don't think Nickie fully expressed is how well it handled keeping our kiddo smooth on the go.

A mother's bosom makes for a very good pillow for baby. Between running big apples all around (ballon tire), an open cell cushion on the seat and then on top of that the mother's bosom. It all did a remarkable job of isolating Anders from road chatter. Having transported kids in a trailer (with suspension even) on a bike (big dummy and Yuba), and on person(trike), the trike definitely kept him the most isolated from road chatter.

I'm sure with a little creativity other ways can be found to manage road chatter transmission through to the infant carrier method, but I do think that a standard two wheeler is a challenging platform for an infant. the only places to carry an infant on any two wheeler is bound to be right over a wheel which means maximum transmission of bumps into the carrier.

I think if we were to have another I would either do bakfiets and concoct a good cushion setup for the carrier, or the trike once again. Since he was a fall baby, the whole temperature regulation thing was huge.

Hua said...

hi,
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MN_homesteader said...

I had a Wizwheels trike a few years ago in Longmont and it was great with our youngest until he was strong enough for the trailer.
Devin

David said...

Hi

I'm researching baby seats on bikes for my brother: about to have second baby. Both Mum and Dad are keen riders. If you didn't go for the trailer or trade bike option and wanted to adapt a current bike- what would you go for- a car seat on the back or a back pack set up? Considering the weight of the toddler's lolling head and strain on the neck seems to be an issue?

A.T. said...

just out of curiosity - is this just me or watching this photo makes me scared for your hear getting into back wheel?