New mothers need better social and partner support to overcome barriers to exercise and physical activity in the postpartum period, according to new research.
In the study involving 150 new mothers, lack of confidence, time and information about exercise were defined as barriers to physical activity for women six to 52 weeks after giving birth, suggesting easier access to community facilities and exercise programs are needed.
Curtin University School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work Professor Beverley McNamara who supervised the study says the postpartum period is a particularly challenging time for women as they face new responsibilities for caring for their newborn, leading to difficulties in attending to their own exercise needs.
“There is a lot going on both physically and emotionally before, during and after childbirth, and women’s lives and levels of confidence change over this important time,” Prof McNamara says.
“An interesting finding [in the study] was that mothers with higher levels of confidence and higher partner support have higher levels of physical activity.
“Having strong partner support is important if women are to be able to reap the benefit from exercising after childbirth.
“We also need better social support from our communities and acknowledgment that the postpartum period can be a difficult time.”
While study participants reported receiving basic information about gentle exercise and exercise programs while attending child health clinics, some lost access to these opportunities in following months.
“If women were particularly socially isolated they did not know what was available and unless they made it a priority to find out, they neglected regular and organised exercise,” Prof McNamara says.
The research team recommends two approaches be developed to provide support for new mothers who generally fall into two groups: those who enjoy the social aspect of exercise and those who prefer exercising alone or lack time for group programs.
“Women need to have information about how they can either start an individualised program of exercise—perhaps in their own home—or join ongoing, accessible and affordable exercise classes,” Prof McNamara says.
“Group classes are often costly, but there is no reason why individualised self-management programs could not be developed and made available [online].”
Curtin University’s Maryam Saligheh, who headed the study, hopes to extend the research through an intervention study testing the effects of individualised exercise programs and through a longitudinal study following women from pregnancy to childbirth and the postpartum period.