Physical Activity and Postpartum Well-Being


Address for correspondence: Carolyn M. Sampselle, RNC, PhD, University of Michigan School of Nursing, 400 North lngalls, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0482.


Objective: To describe reported patterns of postpartum physical activity and to identify benefits or risks associated with postpartum physical activity at 6 weeks postpartum.

Design: Secondary analysis of longitudinal data collected prenatally and postpartum in a study of obstetric outcomes at a midwestern tertiary-care center and its ambulatory satellite and hospital clinics.

Participants: One thousand three women completed a questionnaire at the 6-week postpartum clinic visit. Mean age was 29.7 years, and mean education level was 15.3 years.

Variables of Interest: Participation in vigorous exercise, change in postpartum activity level, postpartum weight retention, infant feeding method, maternal postpartum adaptation, and participation in activities for fun.

Results: Nearly 35% reported doing vigorous exercise with a modal frequency of three times per week. More active women had retained significantly less weight (8.6 lb [3.9 kg]) than their less active counterparts (11.3 lb [5.1 kg]). Vigorous exercisers demonstrated a consistent pattern of better scores on measures of postpartum adaptation and were more likely than nonexercisers to participate in fun activities, such as socializing, hobbies, and entertainment. Breastfeeding was not adversely affected by vigorous exercise.

Conclusions: These exploratory results indicate that physical and psychologic benefits may accrue to postpartum women who are able to exercise vigorously and avoid decreasing their usual level of activity. A prospective randomized test of this relationship is warranted. Although positive outcomes of physical activity have been demonstrated in the population at large, exercise has rarely been an element in postpartum care plans. Nurses who care for women after childbirth should assess women's exercise goals and support them in their desired activities.