Background The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology notes that pregnant athletes require more supervision due to their involvement in strenuous training schedules throughout pregnancy. Currently, rowing is not mentioned in the guidelines despite its increasing popularity, high cardiovascular demands, and risk for abdominal trauma. Methods This study aimed to elicit information from competitive female rowers regarding exercise, training, and competition during pregnancy. We administered a survey consisting of 122 items to female Masters rowers in the United States, aged 21 to 49 years, from June to December 2013. Results A total of 224 recreational and elite rowers met the inclusion criteria. Pregnant rowers self-reported high levels of exercise engagement: 85.2% (n/N = 98/115) exercised during any past pregnancy; exercise adherence decreased throughout pregnancy with 51.3%, 42.4%, and 15.7% meeting and/or exceeding national guidelines during the first, second, and third trimesters, respectively. Rowers were significantly (p < 0.001) more likely to state that an activity at a specified intensity and trimester was unsafe if they were younger, had less rowing experience, or were nulliparous. Decreased perceived rowing safety was associated with on-water training, higher intensity exercise, competition, and increasing gestational age. Primary safety concerns were the risk of oar-induced abdominal trauma and physiological effects due to high intensities required by the sport. Novel barriers to exercise in pregnancy included guilt towards the team and a mental barrier due to decreased performance. Healthcare providers are the number one information source for rowers regarding exercise during pregnancy. Conclusion Pregnant rowers are a relevant obstetrics population and have barriers and sport-specific safety concerns not previously identified in the literature. Rowers consider exercising in pregnancy to be important and struggle to meet exercise guidelines like the general population, indicating the need for healthcare providers to provide prenatal and antenatal education and interventions to support exercise during pregnancy even amongst athletes.
Keywords: antenatal exercise; crew; exercise; exercise during pregnancy; pregnancy; pregnant athlete; preventive medicine; rower; rowing; sports medicine.