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Playing for team motherhood: Returning to team sport after childbirth

Motherhood and a decrease in physical activity participation often go hand in hand. Specifically, early motherhood is a time when women have some of their lowest rates of sport participation (Rhodes et al., 2014). This is a problem, because during the postnatal period (up to 1 year after giving birth) women are at high risk of drastic weight gain, postpartum depression, isolation and anxiety (Demissie et al., 2011).

While physical changes that affect sport participation are well-addressed, how postnatal women re-engage in sport is also affected by gendered expectations accompanying motherhood. These expectations include gender roles dictating how mothers “should” behave (Freysinger et al., 2013). Another expectation is intensive mothering, that is, the expectation that mothers must prioritize their child’s needs over their own (Trussell & Shaw, 2012). These expectations both decrease mothers’ physical activity levels and also weaken their emotional and physical well-being (Henderson et al., 2016).

Research has looked at how mothers combat these expectations while rejoining sport postnatally. But research has rarely examined team sport’s role. Team sport can reduce negative effects that accompany the postpartum period, while helping increase physical activity levels, socialization and identity affirmation (Batey & Owton, 2014). Team sport can also help postnatal women feel like they’re part of a community and are empowered to resist the gendered expectations of motherhood.