BEING a new mum is hard enough work but to juggle that commitment with returning to play elite sport takes that challenge to a whole other level.

Claire Maxwell spent the first half of last season’s Vitality Netball Superleague campaign helping to coach the Strathclyde Sirens as she awaited the birth of her first child.

Baby Lucy duly arrived in April and became Maxwell’s primary commitment but by the end of the year she had returned to captain Scotland against Barbados.

Now a new domestic season is upon us and the 33 year-old will be back on court in Sirens colours as the Glasgow-based team look to surpass last year’s stellar effort when they came close to reaching the play-offs.

Everything in life becomes more complicated when a child arrives on the scene and Maxwell thanks the support network around her for making it possible for her to train, travel and play with the team again. Returning to her day job as a PE teacher after the Easter break will add another complication but for now she’s content just being a mum and an athlete.

“Lucy is nine months old now,” she says. “She’s crawling and keeping us on our toes. Everyone says you’ll never know what it’s like having a baby until you experience it yourself and that’s definitely been the case. It’s been a journey but a good one.

“It was really exciting to hit the court again. My recovery hasn't been as smooth sailing as I had hoped but I’ve had a lot of support around me to get me back out there.

“It felt different coming back, both in terms of my body and mentally as well. Just getting used to the changes in your body and also mentally having the confidence that you can perform to the levels expected of you after a fairly long break.

“It also gave me a real positive energy boost being back out there as you’re not just doing it for yourself any more, you’re doing it for her too. It will be great in years to come if Lucy can look back and say, ‘oh my mum played for Scotland’.”

Reaching the physical standard required to play international sport is very demanding and even tougher for someone who has carried a baby for nine months.

Maxwell admits she was a bit in the dark beforehand about what to expect during her recovery and believes more research is required to help other female athletes in a similar position.

“I was fortunate that during my pregnancy I was able to be active so I kept my fitness up as much as I could,” she adds. “It was quite hard after Lucy arrived getting back into it but thanks to the support I had I was able to do it. I do enjoy training and it was good to get that mental release too, to get the endorphins and enjoy some “me time”.

“But new mums in a similar position should definitely be given more guidance where possible. It’s a subject that requires more research. I had to look to mums that I knew to hear their stories but there’s not a lot of information out there about other elite athletes who returned to their sport and how their journey was.

“Every birth is different and everyone recovers differently so there’s a long way to go so that new mums can make their return to sport in a way that is both effective and safe.

“Time management is a big part of it too as babies are the boss! To be an elite level athlete takes a lot of hours. It’s like a full-time job in itself. So it’s about how best to use that time. Sometimes it becomes more about quality of training than quantity.”

Maxwell enjoyed her coaching duties last year, especially with the team going on to surpass expectations with their performances. This time, though, she is happy to concentrate on playing.

“I really enjoyed being a coach and getting on the bandwagon with the team having the best season yet,” she added. “It was an exciting chapter in the team’s journey and one we want to build on.

“The squad faced challenges last year with different coaches taking charge of them at different times but they really stepped up and showed what they’re made of.

“I’ve stepped away from coaching this year. I’m splitting my time now between mum and player! That’s more than enough.

“It’s a big year both for the Sirens and with the Commonwealth Games coming up with Scotland in the summer so I’m just going to dedicate myself to being a player for the time being.”