Feb. 16, 1999 ANN ARBOR---Women who are physically active before and after the birth of a child not only retain less weight after the birth, but tend to remain socially active and feel better about themselves in the postpartum months, according to a new University of Michigan study.
"We found that women who exercise were much more likely than not to participate in fun activities, such as visiting friends and family, engaging in hobbies or going to the movies," said Carolyn M. Sampselle, U-M professor of nursing and senior author of the study published in the January/February issue of the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing (JOGNN).
The study, "Physical Activity and Postpartum Well-Being," focuses on 1,003 women who completed a questionnaire at their six-week postpartum examination. Nearly 35 percent of the women exercised an average of three times per week. Those who were most active retained significantly less weight (8.6 pounds) than their less active counterparts. Also, the more active women had less difficulty adapting to the birth of a child and they were more likely than non-exercisers to socialize and engage in other fun activities, such as hobbies and entertainment.
Beyond giving advice for abdominal exercises, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physicians seldom offer advice on the importance of remaining physically active during the postpartum months, according to Sampselle.
"The most important message we can send to health-care providers is the need to talk with postpartum women about their exercise goals and to support those goals. The message we send now is that all of your attention should go to the baby and don't worry about yourself. 'You can come later.' I think they are really doing a disservice to women," Sampselle said.
Of the 1,003 women who participated in the study, 34.8 percent engaged in vigorous exercise, while 65.2 percent did not; 54.8 percent reported engaging in less physical activity, while 29.2 percent reported the same level of activity, and 16 percent reported engaging in more physical activities.
Most of the women reported engaging in "fun" activities: 71.4 percent of the women said they stretched; 47.5 percent pursued hobbies; 47.4 percent socialized; 47 percent participated in sports; and 38.5 percent said they participated in other forms of entertainment.
Although final conclusions on the effects of exercise on mental well-being will require further research, the study also showed that new mothers who exercised were generally more satisfied with their lives. They were more satisfied with their partner's role in caring for the infant; they were more confident in their abilities as a mother; they reported a better experience during labor and delivery; reported an overall better quality relationship with their partner; they were more satisfied with life overall; more satisfied about motherhood in general; and had more support from family and friends.
The questions raised by the study will be the subject of a continuing investigation by SeonAe Yeo, a U-M associate professor of nursing and co-author of the new Sampselle study.
"This was a retrospective study, which means we can't say it's the exercise that is the cause of their positive experience in adapting to the birth of the child. We plan to conduct a clinical study to see if in fact exercise caused this change in the women's state of mind," Yeo said.
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