Back to the Pitch: Is there an appropriate time for female athletes to return to competition after giving birth?

The National Health Service offers one-year maternity leave, but a female soccer champion says she’ll need just three months before competing at the Olympics. What does the public think? 

Women exercising on a sunny day in Bute Park.

Should there be a set time limit for a woman to lace up her cleats and return to the turf after childbirth? United States striker and co-captain of the women’s national soccer team Alex Morgan doesn’t seem to think so, announcing her plans to compete in Tokyo’s Summer Olympics in late July 2020, less than three months after she gives birth in April.

She’s not the only one. Serena Williams’ returned to the tennis court eight months after giving birth. In 2007, American tennis star Lindsay Davenport needed less than a month. In 1999, Irish long distance runner Sonia O’Sullivan returned to training after only 10 days, earning a peak subsequent performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics with a silver medal in the 5,000m. 

We asked people in Cardiff when an athlete is pushing her limits or proving them. 

Jan, 59, first wife

I only waited six weeks before I was back on my feet. There was no maternity leave at all, it was manager’s discretion in those days. Of course, this is going back a long time, but I was back on my feet by then. I’m no athlete though. I was chasing down my other kids at the time, but I can’t imagine chasing a ball down a field that soon after. It can’t be healthy.

Janice, 24, community nurse

See, when I skip a day from the gym, it takes me ages to get out of bed. I’d say a year for me personally because that’s what the NHS gives me and that’s what all my friends have done, but it’d be absolutely mad if I were an athlete and try to return to something like that. That’s too much stress. 

Pete, 38, managing supervisor 

If I were a woman, I wouldn’t want anyone deciding for me. I personally believe they ought to do it when they’re ready. When I felt like I should get back in my game, it’s down to how I feel, and if I feel like I want to get back as soon as possible, then I’m getting back as soon as possible.

Rachel, 32, student

If it were up to me, I wouldn’t return to the field at all. Your child comes first, at least for the first few years, and she would’ve literally have birthed another human. Her body is going through a lot, like trauma really. She can’t possibly be prepared to go straight back to doing something that takes up so much energy, you know?

Nicky, 56, community nurse 

I’d say six months, but that’s how long I took. That’s what it used to be years ago, back in the day, but three months is far too soon. The doctors say at least 12 months it takes before your body is back to normal, for everything to situate itself and pull itself back together. I know that’s true. Physically, the athlete wouldn’t be able to do it, she shouldn’t.

Dan, 21, railway technician 

I’d quit the sport if I were her because family first. It’s one of those things really. I’ve always felt family comes first over yourself, especially for moms. I loved my mom, having her around and that’s the way it ought to happen. You have to put your child first.