Pushing for change: A description of elite athletes' experiences of pregnancy


Female athletes train and compete at the elite level during their reproductive years, yet sport policies that support pregnant athletes lag behind. The pregnancy and parenting experiences of elite female athletes are vastly underrepresented, and such voices are needed to support evidence-informed policy. Thus, the purpose of this qualitative description was to describe the experiences of elite female athletes as they navigate pregnancy, and to identify sport policy considerations regarding participation during pregnancy. Participants were 20 athletes who, within the last five years, had trained or competed at the elite level immediately prior to becoming pregnant. Data were generated via one-on-one semi-structured interviews that were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed through a process of content analysis. The findings of this study are represented by one overarching theme: "Making the tough decisions": Mother versus athlete, and five main themes: (a) "You have a very narrow window": Pregnancy planning and fertility, (b) "I was worried": Pregnancy disclosure , (c)"What I can do versus what I should do": Training pregnant athletic bodies, (d) "Should I be training?": Safety concerns, (e) "I'm going to rely on them even more": Supportive network and equitable funding. In depth stories shared by participants highlight the many significant decisions athletes must make as they navigate pregnancy alongside elite sport participation. Participants' shared experiences highlight clear recommendations that should be considered in the development of sport policy and practices that are inclusive and supportive of female athletes.