Pushing for change: a qualitative study of the experiences of elite athletes during pregnancy

Br J Sports Med. 2022 Apr;56(8):452-457. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-104755. Epub 2022 Feb 8.


Objectives: Athletes train and compete at the elite level during their reproductive years, yet sport policies that support pregnant athletes are lacking. The experiences of elite athletes during pregnancy are vastly under-represented, and such voices are needed to support evidence-informed policy. Thus, the purpose of this qualitative study was to describe the experiences of elite female athletes as they navigate pregnancy, and to identify sport policy considerations regarding participation during pregnancy.

Methods: Twenty athletes (mean age 35±5 years) who, within the last 5 years, had trained or competed at the elite level immediately prior to becoming pregnant were included. Data were generated via one-on-one semistructured interviews that were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed through a process of content analysis.

Results: The findings of this study are represented by one overarching message: mother versus athlete, and five main themes: (1) pregnancy planning and fertility, (2) pregnancy disclosure and discrimination, (3) training pregnant athletic bodies, (4) safety concerns, and (5) supportive network and equitable funding.

Conclusion: In-depth stories shared by participants highlight the many significant decisions athletes must make as they navigate pregnancy alongside elite sport participation. The shared experiences of pregnant athletes highlight clear challenges that should be considered in the development of sport policy and practices that are inclusive and supportive of female athletes.

Keywords: athletes; pregnancy; sport.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletes*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sports*