Pregnancy in the female athlete Part 1: antenatal

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Guy Pitchers with Kirsty Elliott-Sale, Marlize DeVivo, Thomas Donelon, Hayley Mills, Emma Brockwell, and Grainne Donnelly

As female participation in sport and exercise continues to increase, there is a strong likelihood that a strength and conditioning (S&C) coach will work with a pregnant athlete. High profile athletes such as Serena Williams and Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill have shown recently that it is not uncommon for female athletes to become mothers during their careers, rather than after they have retired. However, historically pregnancy was perceived as time spent away from sport and being active was wrongly associated with a high, unreasonable risk to the unborn foetus. The challenge for the S&C coach working with pregnant athletes is navigating the wide range of global recommendations that are often aimed at active or inactive individuals, but not at elite athletes. It is fundamental that any coach working with pregnant athletes is knowledgeable about the physiological and anatomical changes that occur throughout the trimesters, the nutritional demands of pregnancy, and its effect on weight management in order to appropriately facilitate athlete and foetal health during the antenatal period. Therefore, the aim of this initial review is to summarise current literature and provide key insights that promote best practice for practitioners working with pregnant athletes. The use of ‘women’ throughout this paper will refer to the general population and ‘sportswomen’ to the athletic population. ‘Antenatal’ refers to a pregnant woman before childbirth and the term ‘postnatal’ means after childbirth, something which will be covered in part 2 of this review series.

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