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Pregnancy guidance for athletes and sport governing bodies

A female athlete doing sit ups while holding a baby

Academics at Loughborough University have helped to shape pregnancy guidance from UK Sport. The ground-breaking guidance is the first of its kind to support Olympic and Paralympic athletes and sport governing bodies.

Pregnancy and post-childbirth can be physically and mentally challenging for a mother and it’s essential that resources and guidance are available for sport governing bodies and the athlete to best support them and their partner.

The aim of the guidance is to advise how to best support an athlete’s pregnancy fairly and appropriately, providing recommendations to support an athlete during their pregnancy and for when they return to training and competition post-childbirth.

The guidance was underpinned by a research project collated by colleagues at Loughborough University.

Brought together by Loughborough’s Head of Para Sport, Nik Diaper, the project was led by Dr Emma Pullen and supported by Dr Carolyn Plateau (both School of Sport, Exercise, and Health Sciences).

The research investigated the experiences of pregnancy in elite female athletes on a world-class programme. This included both those with first-hand experiences of pregnancy and from those thinking of having children.

The project with UK Sport began in August 2020 with data collection taking place between January and May 2021.

Conducted through interviews and data analysis, the findings were presented back to colleagues at UK Sport to shape the overall report.

Athletes were recruited through the British Athlete Commission (BAC) and the English Institute of Sport’s (EIS) communication channels.

The Loughborough researchers conducted qualitative interviews with ten female Olympic and Paralympic athletes from summer and winter sports. Some athletes had experienced pregnancy, while others were considering it.

The interviews captured concerns athletes had about pregnancy whilst on the World Class Programme and particularly in relation to UK Sports’ previous pregnancy guidance. The team picked up on areas of the guidance that needed revising to better support athletes in their decision making around pregnancy and support during pregnancy and postpartum.

Ultimately the athletes were asked, based on their own lived experience – how could things be better?

The study revealed a number of inter-related issues concerning wider forms of gender inequity on the World Class Programme.

The publication of this pregnancy guidance for athletes and sports is an important marker for high-performance sports and is an important step forward in supporting female athlete well-being.

The team is hoping to publish research findings from this project in the new year.

Last updated December 2021.