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Pregnancy and elite sport: New research published to support athlete partners

Findings from a new study aimed to support athletes during their partner’s pregnancy have been published.

The project, that started in early 2023, has been delivered in partnership with Loughborough University, Liverpool John Moores University, and UK Sport.

Led by Loughborough’s Dr Emma Pullen (School of Sport, Exercise, and Health Sciences), findings highlighted the experiences of Olympic and Paralympic athletes on UK Sport’s World Class Programme (WCP) who have recently supported their partners throughout their pregnancy.

It was discovered that:

  • Athletes face significant challenges as they balance WCP commitments with supporting their partner prenatal and postpartum
  • Implications on athlete health and wellbeing, performance outcomes and equitable practice exist
  • There are opportunities for the development of athlete partner support and provision

It has been a pleasure to collaborate with UK Sport on this research,” Dr Pullen said.

“We hope the findings will support the development of the UK Sport Partner Guidance and the provision offered to athlete partners throughout their partner’s pregnancy journey.”

Through semi-structured interviews, participants were asked to highlight the challenges they have faced and how national governing bodies (NGBs) and other sporting organisations could offer better support.

“These research findings provide excellent conclusions and recommendations that will inform the inaugural UK Sport’s Partner Guidance which will be published in Spring 2024,” added UK Sport’s Alexandra Newman and Andri Rauber.

Athletes were recruited across a spectrum of sports including hockey, cycling, para-cycling, wheelchair basketball, athletics, marathon running, para-rowing, and judo. The athletes interviewed shared their experiences from a range of perspectives. This included prenatal, postpartum, and early years.

The findings will now form the basis of UK Sport Partner Guidance, which will offer robust recommendations of how to support athlete partners on the World Class Programme. This will support heterosexual and same-sex couples, those looking to foster and/or adopt, and couples at the very start of family planning.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/189

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings – the sixth year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.