After childbirth, mothers’ physical activity levels tend to decline and they are less active than women of the same age without children and mothers of older children. Yet, they can benefit the most from being physically active to reduce the risk of developing postnatal depression, help to manage weight after pregnancy and have a positive influence on their children’s physical activity levels.
Our study collected data from mothers using interviews with 16 and questionnaires from 158 mothers, recruited from children’s centres and online forums in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, UK. Using two different methods to collect data enables researchers to be confident in their findings. We aimed to identify what factors influence new mothers to engage in PA.
The study found that new mothers would prefer to engage in PA in a group setting because it offers accountability and an opportunity for social interaction. Specifically, there was a preference for a group of other new mums because they can share parenting experience and advice and engage in PA in a non-judgemental environment. Such sessions can alleviate the need for childcare. Our study found that barriers to attending such groups were that they often clashed with other local baby groups (baby sensory, rhyme time etc), were expensive and mothers were required to pay for classes they were unable to attend.
“You’re all looking a bit flabby and horrible and you don’t care cause you’re all in it together. If I was going to go and join some aerobics class I think I’d feel quite unfit by comparison, but because it’s a postnatal class everyone’s in the same boat,” said a mother interviewed for this study.
Study participants felt they had a lack of information about physical activity after childbirth including signposting to local activities and information from healthcare professionals on how to resume physical activity safely after birth. As a result, some mothers had unrealistic expectations and tried to do ‘too much, too soon’.
Kate Ellis, PhD student and lead author of the study said, “Our study certainly suggests that group-based physical activity, specifically for new mothers is an attractive intervention to explore in further research. At present there are many barriers to the existing service provision that could be addressed to make these opportunities more accessible.”
The available evidence demonstrates that having a child is a life event that negatively influences mothers PA levels. This target group may be especially motivated to improve their health and we’re aiming to capitalise on this by designing a physical activity intervention for new mothers.”
– Professor Stephen Sutton, co-author and Director of the Behavioural Science Group
This research was funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research.
K Ellis, S Pears, S Sutton. A behavioural analysis of postnatal physical activity in the UK according to the COM-B model: A multi-methods study. BMJ Open; 05 August 2019
Queries: Lucy Lloyd, Communications Manager, Primary Care Unit
First published 5.8.19 by our members at the Primary Care Unit, Department of Public Health & Primary Care, University of Cambridge here.