The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) Expert Statements provide a concise overview of topics which have been identified as of interest, confusion, or controversy to sport and exercise scientists. Produced on behalf of BASES by an expert panel at The Active Pregnancy Foundation, today sees the release of the statement on Pregnant and Postnatal Athletes in the Winter 2022 edition of The Sport and Exercise Scientist. The statement highlights current guidelines, areas where further evidence and consensus is needed, and the multi-disciplinary approach necessary to effectively support athletes with their health, training, and performance goals during and after pregnancy.
Over the last seven decades, there has been a sharp rise in the number of women participating in sport at the highest levels. For example, representation at the Olympic Games has increased from 34% at Atlanta 1996 to a new record high of 48% at Tokyo 2020. However, as more women train and compete during their reproductive years, there is also increased demand for the industry to evolve by recognising that pregnancy no longer marks the end of an athletic career.
Bianca Williams, who features on the cover page, is a British Athlete and member of The Active Pregnancy Foundation Mother Board. She said: “Having a baby is tough in general but having a baby and returning to sport is a whole different level! It takes time for your body to feel normal again. Mine didn’t feel normal until my son was nearly two.
“With the right support women with children can achieve so much! They say it takes a village and it really does! I am so grateful for my family and extended family who were able to look after my son while myself and partner were competing abroad, without them we wouldn’t be able to achieve what we have.
“Having a baby shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals! It should elevate women to feel more confident and determined to achieve anything. Us women are stronger than we know!”
Not only do athletes like Bianca have to negotiate the challenges of motherhood but they must also consider the demands of an athletic career, often facing uncertainty about what they can and cannot do and what support might be available to them. It is therefore not surprising that athletes feel compelled to delay motherhood until the end of their careers.
In 2021 UK Sport published the Pregnancy Guidance for Athletes and Sport Governing Bodies to support Olympic and Paralympic athletes on World Class Programmes. Despite advancements like this, there is still a lack of awareness, research, knowledgeable practitioners, policies, and clearly defined and accessible pathways.
Recognising that pregnancy and the postnatal period is characterised by significant anatomical, physiological, and psychological adaptations, the Expert Statement advocates for a multi-disciplinary approach to balance health and performance outcomes; thereby enabling women to continue their sporting careers beyond the transition into motherhood and safeguarding their sporting longevity.
The authors call for action, systemic change, and investment to create a safe and truly inclusive women’s sporting environment and conclude with key recommendations in relation to athletes, research, guidance, policy, and professionals.
Dr Marlize De Vivo, author and CEO of The Active Pregnancy Foundation, said: “This statement has been a year in the making and in this time we have seen women pushing boundaries and perceptions in the sporting arena. Whilst the wider topic area of women in sport has gained interest, there is still a lot of work that needs doing to support athletes during their reproductive years.
“Now is absolutely the right time to raise awareness of the topic area generally but also to encourage conversations between athletes and key stakeholders to address the gaps in evidence, guidance, and policy. We also hope that the sport and exercise industry respond with updates in curricula and requirements for continuous professional development. This Expert Statement provides the foundation for these discussions.”
Gráinne Donnelly, co-author and Advanced Physiotherapy Practitioner at Absolute Physio, said: “This expert statement is so important in order to provide a much needed catalyst to break down the traditional silos of care. Until recently, sports medicine has not considered female specific and pelvic health issues. The time is now to recognise that pelvic health is part of sports medicine and make the appropriate developments required to provide holistic care and support to postnatal athletes. In particular it is important that we utilise the opportunity to prepare for the transition into and beyond pregnancy so that we offer female athletes proactive rather than reactive support.”
Prof Zoe Knowles, Chair of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences, said: “BASES is the professional body for sport and exercise sciences in the UK. This Expert Statement reflects our commitment to work collaboratively with experts such as The Active Pregnancy Foundation to produce evidence-based practice to inform policy, standards and guidance. We look forward to being part of discussions to provide CPD for the sector inspired by this excellent Statement.”
Andri Rauber, Athlete Investment Manager, and Alexandra Newman, Standards Manager at UK Sport, said: “We firmly believe that being an elite athlete and a mother should not be mutually exclusive. Although a number of athletes in the UK and abroad are now speaking out publicly about their experiences of starting a family, itself very positive to see, we recognise that additional research is needed to inform policies and guidance, to better support athletes, and to ensure safe and inclusive environments for them to train and compete in. We hope the BASES Expert Statement provides the platform for this to happen.”
To access the full statement click here.
*Where referring to ‘women’ and ‘mothers’, this should be taken to include people who do not identify as female but who are pregnant.
About The Active Pregnancy Foundation
The Active Pregnancy Foundation is a registered charity with the overarching aim to support women to stay active throughout motherhood; empowering them to make informed decisions around their engagement with physical activities; and ensuring that women have access to opportunities and professionals to guide them through this journey with the necessary skills, knowledge, and confidence. The charity raises funds to campaign and raise awareness of benefits and safety messages; develop and share informational and educational resources; support, facilitate, and disseminate related research; support the training and upskilling of healthcare and fitness professionals; and promote community initiatives aiming to engage more women in physical activities throughout their childbearing years. The organisation is led by CEOs, Sally Kettle and Dr Marlize De Vivo. For more information, please contact The Active Pregnancy Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org