Mommy and Me
Playing While Pregnant
Nina Pantic | June 16, 2017
In April, Serena Williams caught the world off guard when she revealed she was 20 weeks pregnant. What may have been most surprising of all was that it meant she won the Australian Open while roughly two months along.
“I was nervous. I didn’t know what to think,” the 35-year-old said in her April TED Talk. “I just knew that at that moment, it was important for me to just focus right there, at the Australian Open. … I really felt like I didn’t have time to deal with any extra emotions – any extra anything – because pregnant or not, no one knew, and I was supposed to win that tournament.”
Williams would win, beating her sister Venus in the final for her record 23rd Grand Slam title.
When the baby news broke on the Tennis Channel, Lindsay Davenport talked about how much respect everyone has for Williams playing – and winning – the Australian Open.
“Obviously she would have been in the early stages of pregnancy, but being able to come through there not only physically, but also emotionally, is pretty remarkable,” Davenport said.
There was a time when physicians discouraged pregnant women from exercising for fear it could harm the mother and fetus. Today, doctors believe the opposite is true.
“We encourage regular exercise,” said Alejandro Landa, M.D., an OB-GYN at Duke University Medical Center. “Whatever you were doing before your pregnancy, just keep doing it as long as your body allows it.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that most pregnant women, in the absence of medical issues, get 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day.
“Mothers who are active during pregnancy tend to feel better physically and emotionally, and they gain less weight,” says Carol L. Otis, M.D., a women’s sports medicine physician in Los Angeles and former medical advisor for the WTA.
Regular exercise is also thought to ease labor, increase energy and endurance, speed recovery time after delivery and help women return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner.
Click here for a clip of Serena hitting at 7 months pregnant
Former world No. 4 Mary Joe Fernandez said that playing while carrying her daughter Isabella helped her feel stronger off the court. Morning sickness curtailed her activity in the first trimester, but she recalls playing into her sixth month.
“My doctor recommended I stay fit, and tennis is my favorite form of exercise,” Fernandez said.
“What I tell most of my patients is don't start anything new during your pregnancy that you weren't doing before,” Landa says. “If you're used to playing tennis multiple times every week, that's fine to keep doing.”
Carling Bassett-Seguso, who reached No. 8 in 1985, had three of her five children during her career. She was three months pregnant with her first child when she played the 1987 US Open.
“When you're physically fit, it's not a big deal – you don't even feel it. I didn't,” Bassett-Seguso said. “I never stopped working out. I’m a big workout person anyway. … Do what makes you happy.”
There is one important caveat: Women need to get clearance from their doctor to play. After that, there are few on-court considerations:
Stay hydrated: It’s especially important to drink plenty of fluids when you’re expecting. “You want to stay hydrated,” Landa said. “Dehydration can cause cramping in your muscles, and it can cause cramping in your uterus that feel like contractions.”
Be cool: Avoid playing in strong sun, especially during the first trimester, when a developing fetus is vulnerable to heat.
Dress the part: Loose-fitting clothes and a sports bra can help you feel more comfortable. Your ligaments loosen as pregnancy progresses, making you more susceptible to ankle sprains, so be sure to have solid foot support. And because foot size often expands during pregnancy, you may need to change your tennis shoes.
There are no hard and fast rules about when to stop playing, but as you get into your third trimester, take it down a notch – because your center of gravity will be altered after six months. Otis suggests you let the ball take extra bounces and avoid over-extending your body by hitting overheads or hard serves. Your body will let you know when you might be doing too much.
“A couple of times when I switched directions my belly went one way and the rest of me went the other,” Fernandez recalled, “but mostly, I felt great.”
Nina Pantic is a writer and contributor to Tennis magazine. For more, visit Tennis.com.
Additional reporting by Michelle Katlan