What do young parents need after the birth of their child to continue biking?
After the birth of their child, many parents in Germany stop using a bicycle, opting instead for a different means of transport; in particular, they tend to travel by car or on foot (own survey, infas). This switch often translates
into purchasing a car.
What makes cycling so unattractive during this period?
What needs do parents with a baby have with regard to cycling?
“Cycling with a baby; that’s really an unusual topic!” We hear this or similar statements again and again whenever we are at conferences to give a presentation on our project. It certainly is an unusual topic for a
conference, yet it is one that arouses interest as can be seen at symposia where new parents or pregnant women come to listen to our presentation.
However, “cycling with a baby” is also important from the perspective of mobility research and transport planning: After the birth of their child,
many parents in Germany stop using a bicycle, opting instead for a different means of transport; in particular they tend to go by car or on foot.
This switch often translates into purchasing a car (by infas). At the same
time, many new mothers express a desire to start riding a bicycle again.
A transition phase in life (such as moving house, a new job or the birth of a
child) can present an opportunity to point out new mobility options within
the scope of a mobility management plan or break old (mobility) habits.
CYCLING WITH A BABY – IS THIS A TOPIC?
In Germany, cycling with one or more children is fraught with (mostly subjective) uncertainties, while – at least in cities in which most people cycle – it is still more or less part of everyday life. Accordingly, a market
for child seats and child trailers has developed, with cargo bikes being added to the mix in recent years, and now there are also running bikes,child’s bicycles, child’s helmets and other accessories such as horns
and flags, etc. There are safety tests for child trailers and child’s bicycles,
a DIN standard for child bicycle trailers (DIN EN 15918:2017-05), reports
published in a parenting magazine on “The best bike for your child”, and
A cloud, however, hangs over the topic of cycling with a baby, both in (family) practice and the public perception as well as in research and traffic planning. The following section shows its current status in the various areas:
Cycling with a baby has only recently been a topic of discussion on blogs written by mothers who are cycling aficionados. In conventional magazines, the topic is (almost) irrelevant. Within the scope of the project, 28 parent guidelines in book form, six parenting magazines (one year’s
worth of issues for each publication), and twelve websites addressed
towards parents were examined on the topics of “Cycling with a baby”
and “Cycling during pregnancy”. The topic of cycling played only a minor role compared to other modes of transport .
Cycling was mentioned most often in connection with pregnancy and recommended as a suitable means of transport during this period. Only twice was cycling with a baby discussed, and only once specifically with
a baby. The author noted that it is suitable to bike with a baby in a bicycle
trailer fitted with a special baby seat for newborns and young babies.
The topic of cycling and cycling with small children is almost exclusively dealt with in terms of leisure activities in parent magazines and not as an
everyday means of transport.
Cycling with a baby is hardly discussed. Only online services of parenting magazines and internet forums touch on the subject of cycling with a baby. There are tips for riding a bike in the winter and recommendations for
what kind of bicycle trailer is suitable.
If bikes are ridden in families, then babies and toddlers in Germany are
usually taken along in a bicycle trailer, in a child’s seat, or with a cargo bike
. Depending on the model, child trailers can be used to transport one or two
children;babies can ride along in a special infant sling offered by the
manufacturer which is similar to a hammock or (on some models) they
can ride in an infant carrier.Depending on the manufacturer, babies can
ride along by bike directly after they are born. As soon as a baby can sit
safely on their own, they can ride in a child seat. Models that are approved
for road conditions included seats mounted behind the rider (saddle tube,
rear trailer) or in front of the ride (head tube).On some cargo bikes, is it
possible to take a baby with you by fastening an adapter to a baby car seat. In Germany, babies that cannot yet sit by themselves are mostly transported in a hammock fixed in the trailer.
WHAT DO PREGNANT WOMEN AND PARENTS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT CYCLING DURING PREGNANCY AND WITH A BABY?
Apparently, cycling with a baby is hardly a topic of discussion – not even within the target group itself. To learn more about this and to understand the barriers and needs of pregnant women and young parents, we conducted an online survey (July to September with some 650 participants) and focus group discussions (March to September, with about 50 participants) within the scope of the project. In the online survey, the use of
a means of transport, changes in the means of transport after the birth of
their child,barriers and needs with regard to cycling as well as other topics
were surveyed extensively with the aim of achieving statistical comparability. The focus group discussions, however, mainly served to
obtain original recordings and additional information.
Mothers predominantly took part in the online survey (almost half of the participants), followed by pregnant women (one-third) and fathers (20 % of the participants). The participants were mainly very keen on cycling: Approx. 98 % indicated that they like to ride bikes and over 60 % rode a bike everyday or almost everyday before pregnancy or the birth of their child (nationwide average in Germany: 19 %. The poll is therefore not
representative. Nevertheless, it provides helpful information:First, because
it is the first survey of its kind and thus provides new information, while, on the other hand, it shows that pregnant women and parents who like riding bikes change their mobility behavior after giving birth to their child
by opting against cycling, and even this group identifies a number of barriers and obstacles with regard to cycling.
Even the participants in our survey with their high affinity towards cycling show that roughly half of them already starting cycling less during pregnancy: 32 % slightly less and 14 % much less. This trend is even more definitive with mothers: 25 % ride slightly less, 27 % ride much less than before their last pregnancy. For fathers, the changes in every means of transport are much lower; therefore, they are only briefly discussed here.
In addition to health aspects (e. g., birth injuries), it can be assumed that this change has something to do with a modified daily routine. For example, pregnant women in the final six weeks before their due date are in maternity protection, which means they take extended leave from their jobs, and after giving birth it is women who still take parental leave significantly more often and longer than men. Their mobility and the chosen means of transport are different than during the time before pregnancy; this explains the significant increase in going on foot .
This explains only a part of the changes. Various other explanations are
presented in the following section.
“Were you recommended to not cycle during pregnancy?” 33 % of pregnant
women and 26 % of mothers answered yes to this question. Almost every
one of them was discouraged by family members (including partners) as
well as a vast part of their circle of friends and acquaintances. A scant one-third was discouraged by their doctor or midwife, just under 20 % by strangers (e. g., passers-by). This dissuasion was not always justified, and
riding a bike with a baby was often simply labelled as being “too dangerous” (with comments about falls or accidents and vibrations supposedly harmful to the fetus) or “too strenuous”. Other people’s perception can differ considerably from our own: When responding to the
statement “Cycling is physically too exhausting for me”, among the pregnant women taking part in the survey themselves just 1 % answered completely correct, and 5 % rather correct. Over half of the pregnant women agreed with the statement: “Cycling is more pleasant than going
on foot.” and over three-fourths agreed with the statement “I feel good
when riding a bike.” One pregnant woman reported: “It was mostly those who barely exercise themselves who discouraged me from cycling.” It can be assumed that most of the arguments against the cycling have no medical or other sound reasoning. In addition, only a small proportion of the pregnant women followed the advice,except when it came from medical personnel. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that at least for some of the pregnant women the dissuasion sparked uncertainty with regard to cycling.
For the period after giving birth, a distinction must be made between riding a bike with or without a baby. Some women are never out and about without their baby in the first few months (27 % of surveyed mothers, including mostly mothers with babies under six months, but also with older babies). They usually have no other choice but to take their baby with them when riding a bike for the first time after giving birth. Other mothers go on their first bike ride after birth without their child, preferring to wait to take
their baby with them by bike. Of the surveyed mothers, about one third
started riding a bike within one month, and nearly 70 % after three months.
This is certainly not a representative number, but rather has to do with the
respondents’ affinity for cycling. Even for this group of cycling aficionados,
however, there was a trend towards waiting to take their baby by bike for
the first time (43 % in the first three months).
Those respondents who said that they had yet to take their child by bicycle or could not imagine cycling with their baby were then asked: “Thus far, what has prevented you from or in your opinion what arguments are there against cycling with your baby?”The most common responses were (each 9–14 % of respondents):
▸ I think my baby is still too small for this.
▸ I’m afraid of having an accident.
▸ I cannot safely park the trailer or cargo bike
(lack of parking options).
▸ A child bike trailer or a cargo bike is too
expensive for me.
▸ I’m afraid that cycling isn’t good for my
▸ The network of bike paths is not very good
where I live (no direct or safe paths).
The statement “My baby is too small” was said in connection with uncertainties about when and how a (small) baby can be taken by bike. Sometimes, false statements are also made (e. g., “Babies may not ride in a bike trailer before they are able to sit.”) and also cycling with a baby is discouraged by others in other ways: “Our pediatrician advises against transporting our little ones in a trailer.”, or “Information brochures state that using bike trailers for children under four months of age is not recommended.”
Over a quarter of the surveyed parents explicitly indicate that they feel informed only partially (15 %), rather poorly (10 %), or not at all (2 %) about the topic of “cycling with a baby”. In particular, they would like more information on the minimum age at which a baby can be taken as well as the various ways of riding a bike with a baby (child seat, trailer, etc.). The
topics of security (protecting against accidents, falling over…) and health (in particular any harmful effects to the back) also rank high in the list of information requested. Therefore, this can be a good place to start when it comes to promoting cycling with a baby.
What other starting points are there? To find this out, parents should specify what needs to change so that they will take their baby by bike or do so more frequently in the future. This question was answered by 27 % with the statement “Improving the cycling infrastructure”, followed by the statement “Safe parking spaces for bicycles in public and private areas” (16 %), which also relates to infrastructure. A similar priority for secure infrastructure can be seen in the responses to a question we asked parents
about being the mayor of their town. The responses included concrete proposals with regard to improving infrastructure; the most common answers were(very common answers in bold):safe and continuous bike paths; wider bike paths (so that bike riders can use trailers or cargo bikes); bike paths and crossing points that are comfortable to navigate (flat surfaces without kerbs, no or insufficient circulation barriers that can easily be traversed, wide median strips,…); reduced (car)traffic through speed limits;
safe, covered and flat parking spaces for bike trailers/cargo bikes at home and key destinations (e. g., train station, daycare centres); cycling-friendly
traffic-light circuits,biking routes with little inclines, car-free areas.
In addition to improving the infrastructure and traffic rules, the following requests were common: Rentals of bike trailers or cargo bikes; grants for the purchase of cargo bikes and trailers and accessories (baby helmets, baby hammocks); exchange platforms/flea markets for bike trailers, cargo
bikes,child seats and accessories; more attention paid to cyclists in traffic; sensitizing all road users, particularly motorists; information on options for cycling with a baby, campaigns and test rides; taking bicycles on the train; promoting the use of helmets, monitoring compliance with regulations (with regard to speed limits, parking on cycling routes,…).
Even if it is still an unusual topic for many newcomers, cycling with a baby
is already part of everyday life for some parents. The technical possibilities
are in place; they “only” have to do it. However, parents must overcome
obstacles and barriers, from choosing the appropriate means of transporting their baby to concerns for the safety of the child. The aim of this current project is to show that cycling with a baby is becoming the
norm and that it is safe and easy.