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Gold Medal for Pregnancy

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Normally when we think of pregnancy, we think of a time that involves a lot of slow moving and waddling, feeling tired and sick, a bit of a struggle even. But as The Times Online recently reported, the experience of pregnancy can actually help women as athletes.

Apparently labor pains and the experience of childbirth can help a woman overcome nearly anything on the court or field.

Athletes such as distance runners Paula Radcliffe and Liz McColgan and Scottish golfer Catriona Matthew, and more recently tennis player Kim Clijsters, have shown an astounding athletic performance shortly after giving birth. The Times notes that "all claim that the demands of pregnancy and childbirth made them stronger of body and more willful of mind, suggesting that in some way the rigours of the process heightened their athletic powers."

Studies have shown varied results as to the number of women who experience the "motherhood effect." In 1991, analysis of recreational runners showed that there was a 7 percent increase in the body's ability to use and process oxygen efficiently in the eight months after childbirth. In 1997, research claimed that while 11 percent of endurance performers saw a considerable increase in their performance after having a baby while 61 percent merely returned to the same level that they were before pregnancy.

Though each woman's body responds differently to pregnancy and that there are plenty of factors that contribute to a woman's athleticism and abilities before, during and after birthing a child, overall bodies do produce more red blood cells when they are pregnant. This surplus can help the body carry oxygen to the muscles at a higher rate, according James Pivarnik, professor at Michigan State University.

And then of course there's the chance that after pushing out a child and experiencing possibly one of the most excruciating experiences of one's life, the body has been through a kind of physical training that can prepare a woman for sports.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.