Training Patterns of Athletes during Pregnancy and Postpartum

By Beilock, Sian L.; Feltz, Deborah L. et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Training Patterns of Athletes during Pregnancy and Postpartum


Beilock, Sian L., Feltz, Deborah L., Pivarnik, James M., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


The purpose of the present investigation was to examine exercise patterns and psychological variables mediating a return to training and competition after pregnancy. competitive female athletes who had given birth within the last 10 years completed surveys concerning (a) training patterns before, during, and after childbirth, (b) childbirth complications and training advice, (c) perceptions of success in their postpartum comebacks to training, and (d) self-efficacy, social support, and perceived barriers to training during pregnancy and after childbirth. Results indicated that women decreased both cardiovascular and resistance training during pregnancy. Additionally, training efforts during pregnancy were independent of those during the pre-and postpartum periods. This finding suggests that athletes may be able to alter their training patterns during pregnancy without a significant impact on their postpartum training program.

Key words: exercise, childbirth, self-efficacy, female athletes

Research concerning the safety and efficacy of low-level exercise during pregnancy and postpartum has been conducted (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1985, 1994); however, little is known about the physiological and cognitive components involved in a more strenuous exercise program during gestation and the period following. Information concerning the psychological and athletic consequences of various levels of physical exertion during pregnancy and postpartum may help clarify how the competitive athlete, who wishes to regain her prepartum training form soon after childbirth, should train during pregnancy.

Physiological Aspects of Exercise During Pregnancy and Postpartum

Until recently, little information has been available concerning the benefits or potential hazards of a woman's exercise behavior throughout gestation (Pivarnik, 1994). In 1985, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) developed guidelines for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. These recommendations were based on conservative, yet common sense interpretations of scientific data available at that time. The ACOG guidelines recommended that women might engage in a moderate level of physical activity throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Although the 1985 ACOG guidelines acknowledged that a more physically fit woman (e.g., a competitive athlete) might be able to continue a more intense exercise program during pregnancy than her more sedentary counterparts, the guidelines provided no specific suggestions for these athletes. The 1994 revised ACOG guidelines also proposed no specific recommendations for highly trained athletes. Because the ACOG guidelines do not offer specific suggestions for high-level athletes, there is a responsibility for both the mother-to-be and her physician to design an individualized activity program to meet specific goals. The best way to accomplish these goals is not known at this time.

While some research has been conducted regarding the role of exercise training during pregnancy (Kulpa, White, & Visscher, 1987; Pivarnik, 1994, 1998; Work, 1989), much less is known about the postpartum period. Although the word "postpartum" is included in the 1994 ACOG guidelines, the only recommendation is that exercise routines should be initiated gradually after delivery. Clearly, a woman's prepartum motivational and physical fitness state influences what is meant by "gradually" regarding her postpartum exercise routines. The only research to date on athletes returning to competition soon after childbirth is a case study performed on an Olympic marathon hopeful in 1993 (Potteiger, Welch, & Byrne, 1993). While the individual did not qualify for the Olympic marathon, she was able to resume an intense training regimen soon (i.e., within 4 weeks) after delivery with no apparent medical complications.

Research concerning exercise patterns of physically fit women during pregnancy and postpartum is limited. …

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