Sarah Wiltshire and Asha Francis on juggling motherhood with sporting ambition

Sarah Wiltshire with daughter Alexa-Rose and Asha Francis with her daughter Paige
Footballer Sarah Wiltshire with daughter Alexa-Rose and netballer Asha Francis with her daughter Paige

Midnight feeds, training sessions, netting goals and nappy changes are all things athletes Sarah Wiltshire and Asha Francis are juggling with their newborn babies.

Less than seven weeks after giving birth to daughter Alexa-Rose, 25-year-old striker Wiltshire will spend her first Mother's Day on the football pitch playing for Cambridge United Women.

"She will be there with my mum and that will mean a lot to me because they are my two favourite ladies," Wiltshire told BBC Sport.

"She seems to be sleeping every time that I play or train, but at some point she will have to watch."

Meanwhile, versatile Team Bath attacker Francis, 31, will spend part of Mothering Sunday coaching the netball Superleague club's feeder side before returning home to her five-month-old daughter Paige and three-year-old Elise.

Francis, a former England and Singapore international, returned to action in Britain's top-flight competition less than five months after giving birth to her second daughter.

"I want the best of both worlds. I've given it a go and it seems to be going alright so far," Francis told BBC Radio Bristol.

"It is nice to have something for myself because I do spend a lot of the day looking after the girls.

"It is nice to have those few hours to yourself when you are not responsible for anyone and you can just be the person you were before the children."

Staying on the ball at 35 weeks pregnant

For Wiltshire, turning out for Cambridge on loan in the Women's Premier Division One South East - the fourth tier of women's football in England - is a tentative return to the sport as she aims to play a part in Yeovil Town's upcoming Women's Super League One campaign.

For husband Steven Edwards, who also manages Cambridge, Alexa-Rose's birth has turned into an amazing bit of transfer business for the lower-league club.

Wiltshire was WSL 2's top scorer when she stopped playing 13 weeks into her pregnancy, with her goals helping the Glovers win promotion to the top flight as champions.

"It has panned out well for all parties," said Edwards after his wife scored twice in her first start for Cambridge, which came just six weeks after giving birth.

"She hasn't had to return to the highest level straight away, instead she has had an opportunity to play at a good level and one where she can find her feet and fitness.

"It has helped me and the club having her around and what Yeovil end up getting will be a more confident and fitter individual."

Sarah Wiltshire
Wiltshire has earned more than 30 caps for Wales

Throughout the latter stages of her pregnancy Wiltshire was a constant presence at her husband's training sessions, as she wanted to keep her skills sharp - even though the diminutive forward had slowed down considerably by that stage.

"I did a little bit of training," she said. "I just wanted to keep my technical skills up and only lose fitness really.

"I tried to stay on the ball for as long as possible. At 35 weeks I was really big and wouldn't really be able to do anything."

'A new motivation'

From the early surprise of pregnancy to playing on through the first trimester, staying active in the third and plotting her return to action, Wiltshire has been able to seek guidance from health professionals and fellow footballers.

Helen Ward, a Wales and Yeovil team-mate, helped fire Reading to the top tier in 2015 having begun the season on maternity leave before returning for the end of the season. On Saturday she announced she is pregnant again and will miss the club's first top-flight campaign.

Yeovil manager Jamie Sherwood is also well versed in having expectant mothers on the books, with his own wife and former player Katie twice returning to the sport to play internationally after the birth of their children.

"As a coach, manager and even more as a friend I made sure Sarah was correct on and off the pitch - we made a medical team and sports psychologist work with her to make sure she was okay," said Sherwood.

"Now she is coming back, I know exactly what the player needs. It is exciting she is playing again and she is ahead of schedule.

"She wants to be playing, she lives and breaths football. It is her first love, which I'm sure will be overtaken by daughter - but she is a footballer at heart."

Sarah Wiltshire
Wiltshire married Cambridge boss Edwards in August 2016

Wiltshire admires those footballers who have returned to the pitch as mothers before her, and now she is determined to set a lasting example for her daughter.

"That little baby motivates me in a way," said Wiltshire. "I want her to grow up knowing she can chase her dreams.

"Having a baby does make you feel like you can do anything. Since I started playing football it was always my dream to play at the highest level and to get to do that with Yeovil, a club the means a lot to me, is my goal.

"I have a little one that is my whole world now, she makes me happy and when I'm happy and playing football, that makes me play better."

'It takes a lot of juggling'

Francis' return to elite-level sport so soon after childbirth was a little more unexpected, as she was recalled to Team Bath as an injury replacement earlier in March, having initially opted just to train with the West Country side after squad sizes were trimmed from 15 players to 12.

The three-time Superleague champion admits the conversation with coaches about her playing future was a hard one, with the season coming so soon after Paige's arrival.

Asha Francis in action for Team Bath
Asha Francis featured in Team Bath's 47-38 win over Team Northumbria on Friday

"It was a difficult decision for me," she admitted. "I didn't want to commit to being in the 12 then find out that I really couldn't cope with it.

"We don't have family nearby, I didn't know if I was going to be fit or what I would have been like, so I was lucky enough that I could be a training partner.

"I wasn't personally expecting anything this season. I was just looking forward to training, getting some fitness back and doing what I love doing."

'It's tough - but definitely worth it'

She has gone on to feature in three of Team Bath's six matches so far this season, admitting it takes a lot of teamwork to coordinate life with husband Rob - something they worked hard at when she first returned after Elise's birth in 2014.

"During the season you do almost sacrifice seeing each other because he works evenings," said Francis.

"It's a lot to juggle and you have to have a lot of people around you who are willing to help out.

"With Elise, she breastfed for 11 months so when I did start that season she was still feeding, so my husband and Elise had to travel with me to play.

"Paige is bottle-fed, which is a little more freedom. If she was feeding from me, that potentially would have been a game changer because of the amount of time I would have had to spend away from her, or asking Rob and Elise to travel to away games with me, which would have been a bit more difficult."

Asha Francis in action for Team Bath
Asha Francis is a former Team Bath captain

And some things about being an elite athlete and parent of a toddler and newborn just do not tally - namely peace and quiet.

"The big difference is the amount of recovery time I have," said Francis. "During the week, if sessions are changed to afford us more rest or a lie-in, that is not the reality of my situation.

"If I'm lucky, Paige has a nap and I might get an hour's kip. If I'm up in the night then Elise is awake in the day wanting to play, then we have got to play."

Afternoon swimming lessons with Paige, followed by evening training sessions, mixed in with those all-important play dates with toddler Elise is a snapshot of a hectic day in the life of Francis.

Every moment of which she relishes.

"If you want it bad enough, you definitely can have children and make the most of what you really enjoy doing," she said. "It is tough and tiring, but it definitely worth it."

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