There are moments in one’s tennis career that are life changing: earning your first direct entry into a WTA event; moving up the rankings to the next level; winning your first title; being selected to compete for your country; or learning that you are going to be a mother. For some players, motherhood and pregnancy are an exciting time. For others, finding out they are pregnant can lead to a lot of questions and concerns. How will this impact my tennis career, my lifestyle, or even my training? Can I still compete while pregnant? Reputable international obstetric medicine colleges, such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), recognize the importance of exercise during pregnancy for both the mother’s and the baby’s health. A proper exercise routine can reduce back and musculoskeletal pain, improve psychological wellbeing, enhance heart and lung function, and lower the risks of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. However, your usual tennis training routine will need to be modified to safely manage the normal physical and physiological changes of a healthy pregnancy.
Can professional tennis players continue to train and compete during pregnancy? Yes! Scientific evidence shows it is safe for players to continue exercise, train, and compete so long as certain precautions are taken. There have been at least 18 Olympians (across all sports) who have competed while pregnant, including gold medalists in ice skating (1920); skeleton (2006) and equestrian (2004). There is NO evidence of pre-term labor (early birth) in mothers who exercised during pregnancy as was previously believed. However, professional tennis players should be aware of the limitations and potential risks from intense training, especially during the first trimester (first 3 months of pregnancy). You should always consult a medical doctor, preferably your specialist Obstetrician and Gynecologist (OB-GYN), about your training routine if you are pregnant or think you are pregnant.
CAUTION! BABY ON BOARD:
To maintain a healthy and safe level of training while you’re pregnant, you should always follow the guidance of your OB-GYN. There are many myths and untrue beliefs about what is healthy and safe for women to do during pregnancy. Tennis is a relatively low-risk sport for pregnancies. It is a non-contact sport with low risk of trauma. Most healthy, pregnant tennis players will be able to safely compete, with some modifications, at least through part of their pregnancy.
STOP exercising immediately and call your OB-GYN if you experience any of the following symptoms while exercising when pregnant:
- Vaginal bleeding or fluid leakage
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Chest pain
- Persistent headache
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Regular or painful contractions
- Decreased fetal movements.
You should have regular check-ins with your OB-GYN to monitor the baby’s health.
BACK IN THE GAME:
The benefits of motherhood for an athlete may include: improved psychological wellbeing, improved bone health, lowered cholesterol levels, healthy weight management, and optimal blood glucose level. However, juggling the demands of being a new parent with returning to play can be challenging. Additionally, some new mothers may experience degrees of urinary incontinence, low back pain, postpartum depression, and challenges with breastfeeding. Therefore, if you plan to return to play after giving birth, you should first have a full evaluation with your doctor. Additionally, you should return to competition following a graduated training program supervised by a health care provider to ensure you are ready to restart competition.
After giving birth it is recommended that you:
- Receive medical clearance after delivery to ensure safe return to play
- Perform appropriate postpartum exercises to improve pelvic floor and core trunk strength and minimize risk of injury
- Have a graduated return to play designed with a qualified health care provider that provides safe parameters based on: the nature of your delivery (vaginal versus Cesarean), pelvic floor healing (e.g. repair of tears, surgical cuts to perineum), pelvic floor injury and function, core trunk strength, mood, motivation, fatigue, sleep patterns, breastfeeding status and comfort, and musculoskeletal strength, agility and endurance
- Consult a sports dietitian for specific dietary requirements for breastfeeding mothers
- Be fitted and wear a proper bra to protect breast health and manage the dual loads of tennis competition and breastfeeding
- Return to the court at a pace that is in accordance to the readiness of both you and your baby. Remember that everyone is different
Appropriate postpartum exercises should include:
- Aerobic and anaerobic exercises, strengthening and muscle toning exercises of all muscle groups
- Postural exercises and core stability
- Emphasis of pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) of 1-3 sets of 8-12 contractions
- Rest and recovery time. Be kind to yourself
Not coping? Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, panicky or depressed?
- You are not alone. It takes time to adjust to new circumstances, and a new baby will challenge you in every possible way.
- Seek help from your OB-GYN or a licensed Sports Psychologist.
- Remember to breathe. IN and OUT. Keep it simple. IN and OUT.
The contents of the Health site are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.