Women who engage in physical activity in the postnatal period report better mental well-being than those who are less physically active

The following article by Iris Lesser, University of The Fraser Valley and Scott Lear, Simon Fraser University originally appeared on the Conversation and is published here with permission.

The extended duration of the COVID-19 pandemic means more women will give birth during the pandemic, and some will have more than one pregnancy and postpartum experience. As physical activity researchers who advocate for exercise as medicine, we are studying the impact of exercise on well-being of postpartum women during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone’s day-to-day lives, but mothers have been especially challenged. Women have experienced a negative impact on mental well-being and physical activity behaviour, with mothers being especially vulnerable with increased child-care responsibilities. New mothers in the postpartum phase are at an additional disadvantage due the heightened challenge of caring for infants.

Postpartum challenges

The postpartum phase is often defined as the first six weeks after childbirth when post-pregnancy physical changes such as uterine shrinking and hormonal fluctuations are the greatest. These changes can also greatly affect the mental health of new mothers — the prevalence of depression is approximately 15 per cent. However, it is possible for new mothers to continue to experience post-partum effects for up to one year.

Since the onset of COVID-19, mental health issues have increased among postpartum women, with 41 per cent reporting depression and 72 per cent reporting moderate-to-high anxiety (compared to 15 per cent and 29 per cent pre-pandemic).

Pre-pandemic challenges such as sleep deprivation, lack of self-care or medically complicated deliveries are now exacerbated. For example, women who gave birth during the pandemic may have experienced reduced direct maternal care, a lack of a home support system due to visiting restrictions and a lack of in-person breastfeeding support.

Physical activity is an effective therapy for anxiety and depression and may be beneficial for new mothers. As little as a single group exercise session of 45 minutes can improve anxiety levels in women without a history of mental illness. Women who engage in physical activity in the postnatal period report better mental well-being than those who are less physically active.

However, physical activity levels are lower in the postpartum period than prior …….

Source: https://www.bradfordtoday.ca/local-news/outdoor-exercise-benefits-new-moms-mental-health-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-4476653

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