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AIS launches landmark study into pregnancy and sport

13 November 2021

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has launched a major study into the impacts of pregnancy in high performance sport, with the research aiming to better support and increase career longevity for female athletes.

Lea Yanitsas in the pool
Lea Yanitsas is an Australian Olympian and also a mum

The comprehensive ‘Mum-Alete’ study will survey athletes to determine the physical, mental, financial, and social impacts that pregnancy and post-pregnancy have on an athlete’s decision to remain in sport.

The ‘Mum-Alete’ study is aligned with the AIS Female Performance and Health Initiative (FPHI), which was established in 2019 to improve knowledge and resources for athletes, coaches and health professionals.

Federal Minister for Sport, Richard Colbeck, said it was another example of the national sport sector leading the way in vital research to benefit athletes at every level.

“We want our female athletes to succeed in competition and beyond it,” Minister Colbeck said. “The AIS Female Performance and Health Initiative ensures the Australian high performance sport system is inclusive, progressive and supportive.”

Former Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Dr Rachel Harris is the Project Lead for the AIS FPHI and said the ‘Mum-Alete’ study will help attract and retain women in high performance sport.

“As a former athlete and as a health professional, I know first-hand how difficult it has been in the past to find guidance about important issues facing female athletes such as pregnancy,” Dr Harris said.

“The ‘Mum-Alete’ study is the first research project of its kind in Australia. The findings will not only help shape current and future AIS initiatives but influence change to better support and improve the longevity of female athletes.”

Led by AIS Sports and Exercise Medicine Registrar Dr Victoria Forsdick, the ‘Mum-Alete’ study will survey high performance athletes from around the country over the next three months, with results expected in April 2022.

“Athlete wellbeing and success go hand in hand so establishing conditions to create a supportive environment is a key strategic priority for the AIS,” Dr Forsdick said. “Historically almost all research and resources have been centred around male athletes so I’m proud that AIS Clinical Services is helping change that narrative to better support our female athletes.”

Two-time Olympic water polo player Lea Yanitsas had her son between Rio and Tokyo and said having a post-pregnancy roadmap would have made her return to high performance sport an easier process.

“I would have loved to be able to access more research, more resources and more information about my return to elite competition following having my son,” Yanitsas said.

“I leant hard on the research available and the experience of my friends who are elite athlete mothers and so much was trial and error. I wish I had had more support in navigating travel, breastfeeding, expressing and the practicalities of trying to train with a newborn.”

Fellow Stinger and Medical Student Hannah Buckling saw first-hand how Yanitsas navigated her return to sport and will use that experience to contribute to the project as the athlete representative in the ‘Mum-Alete’ research group.

“As female sport becomes more professional, women are staying in sport longer, and subsequently are considering having children and returning to professional sport,” Buckling said.

“My teammate Lea is an absolute wonder woman, who after giving birth to her son Dino returned to play in Tokyo. While she is incredible, there were also so many barriers in her way. Understanding the barriers and facilitators to returning to sport post-pregnancy is the first step to being able to support women to both have a sporting career and have children.”

The ‘Mum-alete’ survey is open now and will be taking submissions until 13 February 2022. The study is open to athletes aged 18 years or older training or competing at the highest level in their sport in the six months prior to pregnancy. For more information about the eligibility criteria and how to take part, please visit the AIS website here.

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