Poolside breastfeeding and 5am training: What it's really like to be training for the Olympics with a newborn.

Watching the Olympics it's hard to escape the persistent thought, 'How on earth do these people do it?' Every time we watch another Aussie push themselves to the extreme for the gold, the thought crosses our mind.

But what's even more interesting is when that athlete hasn't been able to dedicate every waking minute to their own success, but instead had to put someone else first. Specifically, a newborn baby.

It takes years to reach an elite Olympic level in sport, and successful women then face a Catch-22. Continue in the 'sweet spot' of their sporting success, or take time out (and the many physical changes that come with it) in order to start a family.

Resilient as always, Australian female Olympians are proving that choosing to have a baby doesn't mean automatic retirement or missing an Olympics.

Water polo player Keesja Gofers' baby will be 16 months old at the Paris Olympics, while marathon runner Genevieve Gregson and canoe sprinter Alyce Wood's respective children will be two-years-old at the Paris Olympics.

The Bellamy's Organic ambassadors and Olympians sat down with Mamamia to share how they are making being mum-athletes work, and what it is really like to be training for the Olympics when you have a newborn.

Olympians begin training relatively soon after birth.

Alyce Wood and her little Florence. Image: Jade Ferguson.


While returning to exercise after birth is an individual decision to be made in tandem with a medical professional, these Olympians were back in the training circuit between four weeks and six weeks postpartum.

Of course, this looked a little different to their sessions before becoming pregnant.

"I was at the pool six weeks postpartum," water polo's Keesja Gofers explains. "I had a focus on regaining strength, through Pilates, pelvic floor exercises and light gym training."

Alyce Wood had trained all throughout her pregnancy, and was back paddling her canoe at four weeks postpartum, which was also her first time away from baby Florence.


"I approached my return much like coming back from injury, gradually reintroducing new movements and activities until I was back to a full program," she says.

Marathon runner Genevieve Gregson had her baby while recovering from an Achilles injury during the Tokyo Olympics. She was in rehabilitation while she was pregnant and did her first run at four weeks postpartum.

"The first few weeks back running were very minimal," she says. "I started to run every second day with my first run being a two-minute jog," she says.

Training is one thing. But what about post-birth competitions?

Alyce Wood in her canoe. Image: Jade Ferguson.


Of course, starting from scratch isn't easy. Gofers returned to competition within nine weeks, but says it may have been too soon for her. 

"This timeline makes it looks like I'm superhuman or something, which is simply not the case. There is little research into return to sport postpartum, and for me, this was probably too soon," she says. 

"I had to take some massive steps backwards after this camp and go back to square one, prioritising pelvic floor exercises above any other form of training."

Gregson was also quick to return, but started with smaller competitions, completing a 10km run at 10 weeks postpartum. She continued running until she got 10km done in 34 minutes. "That's when I started feeling closer to myself," she says. 

Wood's canoe competitions were slightly further off, with the first nationals at six months postpartum and then a second national trial at eight months.

Are babies allowed in the Olympic village?

Keesja Gofers in her Olympic green and gold (so is baby Teleri)! Image: Elie Azzi, Social Media Studios.


While being a mum and an athlete is a pretty cool existence, it often means unwanted time away from the little one while you compete. Unfortunately, the Olympic village is open only to support staff and athletes, so competitors are forced to separate from their families, who often stay in Airbnb's nearby.

"Water Polo runs over the entire two weeks of the Olympics and we play every second day. Sometimes, because of logistics and scheduling, we don't get a lot of time after games to see our loved ones," says Gofers.

"There are quite a few challenging elements of being a mum-athlete, for me this is the toughest, but going for my goals makes me the best version of me, and that's what I want [baby Teleri] to get, the best version of me."


This year, there are rumours of a nursery that athletes in the village can access, to allow them time with their babies while they compete. 

"We will definitely be making the most of this new addition," Gofers adds. 

All three athletes' respective families will be staying close by to the village in Paris.

"We'll make sure to schedule time together around my training and racing. When I'm not on the water, I'll focus on getting as much recovery as possible, which for me includes a little Florence hug every day to stay mentally fresh and happy," Wood says.  

Gregson adds, "I have recently found out that there may be a nursery inside for your baby plus a carer so I am hoping to have my husband and baby in there each day for a few hours to keep me relaxed."

Breastfeeding provides a major spanner in the works.

Alyce Wood gives Florence a high five. Image: Jade Ferguson.


Naturally, one of the biggest hurdles in returning to elite sport with a newborn is navigating breastfeeding. While there is absolutely no pressure to breastfeed, if athlete-mums choose to, it can be difficult to work with around strict training schedules, especially for teams.

In water polo, Gofers admits it was a challenge she "did not see coming".

"Our training can be two hours long, plus a 45 minute drive both ways. So I would often pump in the car!" she says. "I would try to feed [baby Teleri], or pump, right before I got in. Otherwise by the third quarter of the games, it would be very sore if anyone bumped my chest!"

Wood breastfed until 12 weeks, later struggling with supply, but said the team made sure she didn't feel like "a burden to anyone."

For Gregson, while breastfeeding was a bonding experience with her baby, it also took a lot out of her.

"When I began marathon training, I found that I could very easily run out of energy if I didn't eat enough. Speaking with my dietitian helped a lot when it came to making sure I was fuelling adequately."


The return to work looks a little different for Olympians.

Genevieve Gregson and baby Archer. Image: Jade Ferguson.

While there's no denying that all three Olympic athletes had good form before birth, there's no telling how a return to sport will go. 

Gofers, for example, suffered extreme nausea and vomiting in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, which made training nearly impossible. 

She tells Mamamia there was another reason she was hesitant to train. 


"Another reason I didn't train was because of anxiety," she says. "Before Teleri was born (we call her T), I was pregnant and had a miscarriage at 15 weeks. With T, I was extremely anxious to play games."

The nausea eventually subsided, and Gofers felt confident enough to train (as long as it remained non-contact). 

Since having T, she's been training with the national team, which involves 5am starts and trainings that finish at 9pm. 

"When I got extremely tired, I had to ask for more help. In retrospect, I tried to "do it all" for much too long.

"In a lot of ways, being an athlete and a mum doesn't work together. As an athlete, you prioritise your recovery, your sleep, and your nutrition — you prioritise yourself," she says of her journey. "When you bring a little person into the mix, what you want goes out the window! You're on their schedule now."

It was a different journey for Gregson, who was coming back from injury while she was pregnant. 

"Rehabbing a very difficult injury went hand in hand for me because I had always wanted to be a mother and it took away the anxiety and stress of being sidelined from what I love to do," she says. 

These days, she's running often, covering a minimum of 140 kilometres a week. 

"There is so much more to my life than my results now, and I love that I can focus on my baby boy if I am ever disappointed in a race result," she says. 


Wood trained until 33 weeks pregnant (when she could no longer sit in the canoe), and then trained on dry land until the morning of her labour. 

"Balancing the expectations of a being a new mum and an athlete has been challenging. On one hand, there are so many social pressures on new mums to feed, change, bathe, nurse and be incredibly present in every moment of their baby's life. Then on the other hand, I am on a strict timeline in the lead up to Paris," she tells Mamamia

"The guilt pulling me both ways has been real, but it's also taught me how to prioritise my time and energy.

"I do around 13 sessions per week. 10 paddling sessions and three gym sessions, each of which go for about an hour."

A common thread between the three mum-athletes is how their babies learning to walk has given them a new kind of dedication. 

"When they're learning to walk they fall over a thousand times, but get up a thousand more, always with a smile on their face and so much determination. This is now how I approach my training," Wood says. 

Australian sporting associations are trying to help, but it may not be enough.

Keesja Gofers with baby Teleri. Image: Elie Azzi, Social Media Studios.


Being an athlete is one thing, but when you add pregnancy and a newborn into the mix, it's a bit of a shake up for traditional sporting institutions. 

All three athletes agree that the support has come a long way in recent years, but that there is still some work to be done in the area. 

"Basically, everything about how our sport operates doesn't really work with how childcare is set up," says Gofers. "Probably the biggest challenge beyond this, is in order for all the girls to really chase the dream of playing for Australia and being a team capable of winning an Olympic medal, we can't have full-time jobs, which means getting consistent income is near impossible.

"We have to pay our mortgage, babysitters, daycare et cetera, with my 'return to work' not providing me a full-time salary. This is almost the case in every single Olympic sport — especially for women!"


Gregson can't help but agree. 

"I believe the sporting industry is taking steps in the right direction. I do believe there are improvements to be made, mainly just support for mothers that have returned," she says. 

"There is so much more to consider now as I prepare for the Olympics with travel and help with my baby that an individual would never have to worry about. The best part though, is there are so many mums out there doing it and if they keep paving the way and shining light on where and what can be better, there will be no limit to what a mother can do."

Still, Gregson admits she sometimes has an 'inner battle' about what to do when it comes to having more children. "I believe you can have both, it just comes down to your support system."

Wood admits that being a mum-athlete is "still not a 'normal' route."

"As more women take this path, many sporting organisations are now introducing policies which is amazing to see, but ensuring these are fit for purpose will take time. In my opinion though, the biggest gap is within the actual physicality of the pregnancy and postpartum periods as there is still so much unknown about how much we can exert ourselves," she says. 

Being a mum-athlete doesn't need to impact performance.

Genevieve Gregson stretches before a run. Image: Jade Ferguson.


Then comes the big question… while having a baby has undoubtedly added endless joy to these Olympians' life, has it hindered their sporting ability?

The good news is that all three mothers — Gofers, Gregson and Wood — have not only achieved success postpartum but are doing even better than they were before. 

"The scariest part of the whole return was worrying that I may never get back. Although I say I enjoy a challenge, it is obviously normal to have a lot of doubt creep in at times," says Gregson. 

"I worried my sponsors would walk away, or that I wouldn't be able to compete for a living if I didn't get back to where I left off."


Luckily, she says her athletic career has "jumped to a new high" over the last six months. "It has been the most magical time for my family and I," she says. 

Wood knew that she wasn't ready to hang up her paddle after Tokyo. 

"I was originally quite worried about the feasibility of this and whether it was worth the sacrifice, but ultimately we decided that bringing Florence into a world surrounded by my teammates who chase their dreams every day was the right decision," she says. 

After Tokyo, Wood had been sure that she would not compete in another K1 (single boat) race again. Birth changed that.

"I think I had lost the confidence I used to have by myself and wanted to pursue a different route," she says. "But at eight months postpartum we had our national team selection trials (in February 2023), and I won the K1. This result is something I never thought was possible and made me believe in myself again after so many months of doubting my abilities.

"I agree that being a mum has made me a better athlete and being an athlete has made me a better mum."

So here's to these superwomen who, like their children, will always pick themselves up, dust themselves off and hustle for the dream of representing our country at the highest level of elite sport. 

Featured image: Supplied.

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