Melbourne Boomers' Leilani Mitchell ready to juggle basketball with breastfeeding

WHEN two-time Olympian Leilani Mitchell played her last WNBL game in December 2021 she was pregnant with daughter Elle.

Next week when she returns to the court after signing an injury replacement contract with the Melbourne Boomers, the eight-month-old won't be far from the sidelines and will most likely need a feed at half time.

Elle is 37-year-old Mitchell's second child with partner Mikaela who carried their son Kash who was born in 2018 and a constant fixture during Mitchell's championships with the UC Capitals (2018-19) and Southside Flyers (2019-20)

"Breastfeeding is the biggest thing. I've got my breast pump and I'm sure I'll actually have to take her in at half time and give her a feed," Mitchell told ESPN.

"But she still wants to be fed probably every two hours and won't always take a bottle.

"I coached through my pregnancy last NBL1 season and only missed a couple of games. Elle didn't come to the games so that feeling of being in the locker room at half time trying to express, it can be quite painful and it's something you can't hold off.

"A baby definitely puts things into perspective. My situation is unique where I first became a mum with Kash but I didn't carry him or feed him. I was the fun mum and I got to still train and play basketball.

"Now with Elle it's totally different, I know how much she needs me all the time and it's a different type of bond when you're breast feeding.

"It was such an amazing feeling and experience being pregnant and birthing a baby. To experience it, see what your body can do, the changes and how it can bounce back -- our bodies are amazing."

Mitchell will become the 11th playing mother in this current WNBL season.

It's a stat she is proud to be part of and while recognising how conditions have improved for the league's mums clubs and competitions more broadly can do more to support women from conceiving through to postpartum.

"I think it's great not only for obviously every female personally, it's good for the young girls to see and it's good to open the eyes of men to see women are amazing, we can have babies and still use our bodies as professional athletes," Mitchell says.

"We're not returning to work to sit at an office job, we're putting our body through rigorous activity every single day, dealing with injuries and physical fatigue and taking care of our kids every moment outside of that -- staying up late, waking up for feeds.

"I'm sure there are actually women playing in the league who have been trying to conceive or want to get pregnant soon but are scared they won't be able to come back after, even still at this point.

"I was thinking that too, not that I couldn't but it's just the unknown -- how will I feel afterwards? Because you hear stories of people having difficult pregnancies or deliveries so you're like 'well I still like playing basketball, will I be able to come back? And if I feel well enough to come back will a team want me and want to pay for my child?' because that's part of the agreement now as per the parental policy."

In 2021, Mitchell underwent fertility treatment while in the US completing the WNBA season after the Olympics, and played four games with Bendigo last season before stepping off court as her pregnancy progressed.

News of her pregnancy had many pundits call her retirement for her after two Olympics (Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020), a World Cup bronze medal in 2014 and many WNBA campaigns, the only player to twice win Most Improved.

"It was annoying," Mitchell says.

"People assumed that because of my age, I'm over 35 and fell pregnant, I was done playing basketball and was going to have a family. As we've seen in more recent times, there's heaps of women coming back after having babies which is great and I don't think they've had any injuries doing so, touch wood.

"So, I don't know why people continue to assume if a woman gets pregnant in their 30's they're done playing basketball."

Last year, Mitchell wanted to let her body recovery and spend time with Elle but would play in a 3x3 tournament, with Mikaela, and win three months post-birth.

The plan was to play NBL1 this season and perhaps WNBL the next.

Now a comeback is a reality.

She is in communication with WNBA teams with both parties set to monitor her return to play and body.

Mitchell has not shut the door on representing the Opals again. Australia will this year host the FIBA Asia Cup in Sydney.

For now, the family of four will make the temporary move from Newcastle to Melbourne as Mitchell looks to help the Boomers on their quest for back-to-back WNBL titles.

A triple champion and two-time Rachael Sporn Medallist for Grand Final MVP, Mitchell has winning pedigree.

And it's only five WNBL games ago she was best-on-court in a championship, the 2020 Grand Final.