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Spennymoor Town Ladies’ prized asset confesses her struggles returning to football after childbirth

After a shockingly short sidelined period, Caitlin Bates has made an inspiring comeback to football after giving birth. 

Caitlin Bates and her son / Photo credits: D J Nelson Sports Photography

Crying on the way home from every training session – let alone every game – struggling to shed baby weight, and chronic pain in her hips, Spennymoor Town Ladies striker Caitlin Bates admits she was a walking – or hobbling – warning to other players about the risks of returning to playing too soon after childbirth. 

But she’s also, as her return to form this season has shown, a survivor. 

Finding out at only four-weeks pregnant, Bates put her playing career on pause, and instead joined the coaching staff at South Shields Women FC. This went hand-in-hand with an unfortunate injury with ruptured ligaments in her ankle, ultimately taking her out of the matchday squad regardless. 

At around seven months into pregnancy, Bates’ managerial duties were handed to current South Shields Women FC head coach Alex Miller, and assistant head coach Becki McMahon, before welcoming her first child into the world in late February. 

However, she was eager to retain her fitness and continue to play her go-to” sport. 

With a recommended rest period of six weeks minimum, Bates cut this short, itching to get back on the grass, arguably too soon”, joining Birtley Town Ladies in just over four weeks postnatal. She featured in her first full 90 minutes for the club in only her second appearance. 

Since then, the versatile attacker joined Spennymoor Town in the preseason for the 2023-24 season in the North East Regional Womens Football League Premier Division, a familiar league for the player, where she has also starred for South Shields Women FC, Hartlepool United Women and Farsley Celtic FC Women.  

The Moors player has accumulated 33 goal contributions (15 goals and 18 assists), so far, in her first full season back. 

Whist the stats show that Bates’ talent seems unaffected, she spoke of the struggles of being sidelined, and her awaited return to the pitch. 

“I found the transition [out of playing] a lot harder than I was expecting it to be.  

“Not being able to play or train affected me a lot more mentally than I thought it would. 

“I used to cry on the way home from nearly every game and training session for weeks initially, until I got used to it. 

“Football is my go-to, so once that was out of the equation, I really struggled with what to do for myself.” 

Bates celebrating against Alnwick Town Ladies / Photo credits: D J Nelson Sports Photography 

Not only did the Spennymoor Town star find the transition out of football difficult, but she also faced obstacles when putting the boots back on. 

“Getting back into it was not what I expected it to be. 

“I admittedly probably went back too soon. 

“[At Birtley Town FC] I played the last six or seven games of the season and then had another break before the new season started. 

“In that time, I didn’t want to go back to playing. 

“I think it was because I was expecting to just go straight back to being the player I was before having Theo [son] and I couldn’t have been anymore wrong.” 

Caitlin Bates playing for Birtley Town Ladies / Photo credits: Raw Edge Media

“I played in pain for the full time that I was at Birtley.  

“I was expecting that to just be the new norm for me, which made me doubt whether it was worth going back to playing again. 

“However, with a few more weeks rest in between the seasons, it had done me the world of good.” 

After ending the 2022/2023 season with Birtley Town, Bates decided for a change of pace, joining her current club Spennymoor Town Ladies FC. 

“At the start of the pre-season I still had a bit of baby weight to shift, and I was really unfit. 

“I found it physically really hard, and it had a massive impact on my body. 

“Up until recently I have struggled massively with problems with my hips, and I was in a lot of pain after sessions and in the second half of games. 

“As the weeks went on and the more and more fitness work that I did, I could feel myself getting fitter and sharper each week. 

“I got a full pre-season under my belt and hit the ground running.  

“I started feeling like I was getting back to the old me.” 

Bates celebrating against Hartlepool United Women / Photo credits: D J Nelson Sports Photography

Despite it seeming a smooth comeback to football, she explained that it hasn’t been so plain sailing. 

“The start of the season I was just steady, I contributed to more assists than goals, but I was still contributing. 

“Then around November/December time I hit a rough patch where I hated playing, I hated training. 

“I had a conversation with the manager [Billy Shackleton] and said I didn’t even know if I wanted to come back after the Christmas break. 

“My confidence was at rock bottom.” 

However, after the winter break, the attacker took a different approach to playing. 

“From January I just wiped the slate clean and tried not putting so much pressure on myself to score or assist. 

“It felt like it just all clicked and fell into place, and since then I’ve been playing with confidence and scoring or assisting in nearly every game which is such a great feeling.” 

Bates now only has one game remaining before rounding off her first full season back into football. 

“I’m feeling probably the best I have felt right now since before Theo. 

“I feel like I have got my sharpness back and my confidence is relatively high week in week out, especially now that I have hit a good run of form with goals and assists.” 

“I am still very harsh on my own performances; I never feel like I have played well enough or contributed enough but since probably January time I feel like I’ve found my feet again. 

“I’m getting back to the player I used to be.”