Physical activity and postpartum functional status in primiparous women
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Background: During the early postpartum period, new mothers commonly experience fatigue and depressive symptoms which may affect their ability to function and care for themselves and their newborn. Given the demonstrated positive effects of physical activity on mood and fatigue, the purpose of this study was to describe physical activity levels across late pregnancy and the first three months postpartum, and to determine the associations between physical activity and postpartum functional status, mood, and fatigue at 6- and 12-weeks postpartum. Design: We employed a longitudinal, descriptive study design. Prenatal classes were used to recruit women. Questionnaires containing validated measures of functional status, physical activity, mood, and fatigue were administered at baseline (pregnancy), 6- and 12-weeks postpartum. Results: The sample consisted of 73 primiparous women with a mean age of 30 (+3.7) years. The majority were married (83%), Caucasian (98%), educated (70%) and middle to upper-middle class. Women in this study were physically active, with the majority being moderately active (52%). Few women had low physical activity levels (n = 4-8) throughout the study. Household activities and walking accounted for the majority of physical activity. Women in this study reported moderate levels of fatigue, with fatigue levels decreasing over time. For most postpartum women, mood and fatigue scores improved from six to 12 weeks; however, for 26% of women, scores did not. Self-care and social/community activity subcategories of functional status were the slowest to improve. Women who were low/moderately physically active at six weeks postpartum were three times as likely to have low functional status in comparison to highly physically active women (OR 3.22, 95% CI: 1.07, 9.73). At 12-weeks women with higher mental (OR 1.33, 95% CI: 1.00, 1.79) and physical fatigue (OR 1.23, 95% CI: 1.07, 1.40) were more likely to be in the lower functional status group at 12-weeks postpartum. Conclusion: Our findings indicate that high levels of self-reported mental and physical fatigue relate to lower functional status for primiparous women at six and twelve weeks postpartum. Women who are highly physically active at six and twelve weeks postpartum are more likely to have higher functional status, but this effect is influenced by perception of both mental and physical fatigue.