Dagny Brynjarsdottir interview: ‘I started training again five days after giving birth’

Dagny Brynjarsdottir - 'I started training again five days after giving birth'
Dagny Brynjarsdottir and her eldest son Brynjar walked out on to the pitch together before a WSL game last season - Getty Images/Henry Browne

When Dagny Brynjarsdottir gave birth to her first son in 2018, the doubters were everywhere. “So are you done with the national team?” and, “You’re just going to play semi-pro in Iceland”, they said. She did not listen, going on to win her 100th cap for her country and score at the European Championship in 2022.

That determination to return is just as evident following her second child’s arrival last month. The West Ham United midfielder started an exercise programme just five days after his birth on Feb 7, with the aim of potentially returning to Women’s Super League action by the end of this season.

Speaking to Telegraph Sport in her first interview since her son’s arrival, Brynjarsdottir says she feels attitudes towards pregnancy in women’s football have changed hugely since her first experience of giving birth – and she has learnt a lot, too.

“We’re doing very well, I couldn’t have asked for a better birth or better recovery,” the 32-year-old says, speaking via a Zoom call from back home in Iceland, with her newborn peacefully sleeping by her side, just off-camera. “The little one is doing very well but he’s a bit more challenging than his brother [Brynjar]. He was born 10lb, so he’s big. I’ve booked his name announcement and baptism on March 23, but right now I don’t know. It’s very hard to decide the name.

“I’m busy doing everything at home and trying to get back into shape. I’m obviously not training super hard but I need to go out for a walk to make my pelvis and everything get used to it again, and then I have a lot of exercises to do at home, so I do strength training three times a week at home. As a high-intensity athlete, I would say they aren’t the most exciting exercises, but they are important, and I know if I do them, it will help me in the long run.

“It’s a six-week programme. I guess maybe a normal woman would start six weeks post-birth, but I started five days after giving birth. It has been going well. I trained very well during pregnancy. I walked two-and-a-half kilometres on my due date and had my son seven hours later, so I was in good shape going into the birth. That definitely helped me to start training again earlier.”

‘Then a lot of people doubted me – Now people expect me to be back’

On Friday, West Ham released a documentary called Omarsson – so named because her husband’s name is Omar and so the baby’s surname will be Omarsson – charting her journey through her second pregnancy. Their skipper is a lifelong West Ham fan and the documentary includes footage of moments such as the baby’s gender reveal at the club’s Chadwell Heath training ground.

Asked how different attitudes are towards pregnancy in the game this time compared to 2018, she replies: “There has been a lot of change since then. When I first gave birth, two months before I turned 27, a lot of people expected me to be ‘done’ playing football, because I guess there weren’t many mums [playing on] at the time in the football world. A lot of people doubted me.

“Now people are just expecting me to be back. There are more mothers playing and training at the highest level, so people don’t doubt them as much and they know they can do it. But I also think obviously there has to be support from family, clubs and all that, to make it work out.

“I couldn’t complain about anything at the club, they’ve supported me through the whole thing. Obviously I was a bit nervous telling them. The pregnancy wasn’t planned, so it was a big shock, but since I told them, they’ve been nothing other than supportive.”

‘I trained way too much with my first pregnancy’

In February, the Football Association announced that a designated “female health lead” was being introduced at every WSL and Championship club to improve understanding around breast support, pelvic health and more. It is a move welcomed by Brynjarsdottir.

“I think it’s amazing,” she says. “This is very important for the future. I think a part of that is making sure clubs have the information and are trained enough to be able to support the players who want to be mothers. For example, during pregnancy I just did my training programme by myself, I guess it was easier for me.

“I have a degree in strength and conditioning so I would say my S&C knowledge is quite good, but also I’m going through pregnancy for the second time so I Iearnt a lot from the first pregnancy and then did quite a lot of research as well. But obviously that’s not the case for all footballers, especially those doing it for the first time. So it’s going to be so nice for them if someone at the club could help the player and make a training programme for them.

“I know, when I had my first pregnancy, I trained way too much. I also trained a bit wrong after giving birth and probably did too much too early. I knew I was not going to make the same mistake again this time.”

Her focus since giving birth in February has been on pelvic floor and light strength exercises, easing her body “back to work”. She adds: “It’s so strange because when you’re pregnant you do all sorts of exercises but your glute, your core, you haven’t exercised them at all. You’re basically starting your body from back at zero, so it’s important to do all the basic, key exercises first and then you can build in more.”

‘I could play before the end of the season if everything goes perfectly’

Brynjarsdottir’s contract runs out at the end of the season, but she is hoping to be back in West Ham colours before then.

“When I did the comeback after my first pregnancy I put pressure on myself, and I decided when I fell pregnant this time that I wasn’t going to do that again. I guess I’m a little smarter now, being older and doing it for the second time,” she says. “There is a possibility I could get some minutes before the end of the season, but everything has to go perfectly.

“He will be three months old in May but maybe I could get minutes in the last game of the season or the game before that. But as I said, everything would have to go perfectly, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s fine, then I’ll just focus on being ready for pre-season and to be ready for the first game next season. Obviously I’m out of contract actually, so it depends what happens.”

Brynjarsdottir had started this conversation by saying: “Hopefully he’ll sleep through the whole interview.” The one-month-old did not let her down, never making a sound – just as those doubters have been silenced by Brynjarsdottir.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.