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Elite athletes during pregnancy and postpartum

Summary of an article comparing pregnancy and postpartum outcomes of elite female athletes and active women.

Who

Norwegian females pregnant within the last 5 years aged 25-40 years.

Elite athletes
34 international level athletes who has planned to return to the same competition level postpartum
33.1 (±3.9) years of age
21.6 (±1.7) pregnancy BMI
12.3 (±4.1) kg weight gain during pregnancy
Active women
34 physically active women (>150 minutes/week) for at least 2 years before the pregnancy
31.5 (±3.5) years of age
22.4 (±1.7) pregnancy BMI
13.3 (±3.4) kg weight gain during pregnancy

Design

Cross-sectional study: interview and/or questionnaire

Outcome measures/tests

Training during pregnancy, return to training, injury, baby’s outcomes

The Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI-3), Eating Disorder Examination (EDE)

Main results

  • Both groups decreased their endurance and strength training volume during pregnancy and 0-6 months postpartum, and both groups had mostly babies within a normal birth weight.
  • Elite athletes had higher endurance and strength training volume before and during pregnancy and postpartum than active controls.
  • 71% of elite athletes and 32% of active controls returned to sport within 6 weeks postpartum, 24% elite athletes and active controls returned between weeks 7 and 12, 6% of elite athletes 41% of active women returned to sport between 13 and 18 weeks.
  • 21% of elite athletes and 27% of active controls experienced postpartum urinary incontinence.
  • Four elite athletes (12%) experienced training-induced injuries during pregnancy (all in the third trimester); 12% reported stress fractures (all returned to sport within 6 weeks postpartum and breastfed).
  • 0% of active controls reported training-related injuries during pregnancy or the first 9 months of postpartum.
  • Elite athletes on average increased their body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness from pregnancy to postpartum. Active controls decreased their body dissatisfaction from pregnancy to postpartum.
  • 26% of elite athletes and 12% of active controls experienced eating disorders.
  • When compared to 6 months before pregnancy, 44% of the elite athletes reported the same performance, 26% reported decrease and 5% reported better performance in postpartum.
  • 82% of active controls reported the same performance, 12% decreased performance, and 6% reported better performance.
  • Elite athletes reported “time to recovery” (74%) and “having the right partner” (62%) as main factors for a successful return to sport at a high level.

Take home message

For a clinician
Elite athletes had similar birth outcomes (miscarriage, preterm birth, Caesarean, baby's weight at birth, Apgar score) compared to active women. Four elite athletes had training-related injuries during pregnancy and four had fractures during postpartum. Controls did not have injuries in pregnancy or fractures during postpartum.
For a parent
Elite athletes had similar birth outcomes (preterm birth, Caesarean, baby's weight at birth, Apgar score) compared to active women.
For an athlete
If you are an elite athlete your pregnancy outcomes may be similar (preterm birth, Caesarean, baby's weight at birth, Apgar score) compared to active women.

Original article

Sundgot-Borgen J, Sundgot-Borgen C, Myklebust G, Sølvberg N, Torstveit MK. Elite athletes get pregnant, have healthy babies and return to sport early postpartum. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine. 2019 Nov 1;5(1).

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