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Postpartum physical activity and sleep levels in overweight, obese and normal-weight mothers

02 June 2018
16 min read
Volume 26 · Issue 6



Lack of physical activity and sleep can lead to serious health consequences. One population likely to experience both of these issues is postpartum mothers.


To compare physical activity and sleep of overweight/obese and normal weight postpartum mothers.


The study recruited 21 mothers in the first 6 months postpartum, who were classified as normal weight or overweight. Activity and sleep levels were gathered via wrist-worn accelerometers at three intervals between 3–6 months postpartum.


Overall, there was a significant (P<0.05) increase in physical activity. When separated by body mass index (BMI) classification, the ‘normal weight’ group displayed a significant increase in physical activity, while the ‘overweight/obese’ group did not. Normal-weight participants also had the larger increase in physical activity from visit two to three. All participants significantly decreased in sleep levels from visit two to three.


Discrepancies appeared between the physical activity of overweight/obese and normal-weight mothers. Interventions before and after pregnancy may be key in improving these issues.

Lack of physical activity and sleep are two key risk factors for numerous physical and psychological health-related issues (Colten and Altevogt, 2006; Center for Disease Control (CDC), 2015). Lack of physical activity is linked to an increased risk of physical health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes; mental health issues, including depression and anxiety; and cognitive issues, such as deficiencies in learning and judgement (Guszkowska, 2004; CDC, 2015). Lack of sleep duration is also associated with numerous chronic diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, and cancer, along with increased mortality, reduced quality of life, and impaired cognitive function (Colten and Altevogt, 2006).

One population likely to lack physical activity and sleep is postpartum mothers. Postpartum mothers are less active than women of the same age without children (Verhoef et al, 1993; Marcus et al, 1994; Drago, 2001) and mothers with older children (Marcus et al, 1994; Brown and Trost, 2003). Furthermore, postpartum mothers have reported getting 1–2 fewer hours of sleep than their non-postpartum counterparts (Quillin, 1997; Thomas and Foreman, 2005). Along with negative consequences for the mother, lack of physical activity and sleep in postpartum mothers may have implications for their child, such as reduced alertness and decision-making (Harrison and Horne, 2000). Additionally, lack of physical activity and sleep have both been linked to an increased risk of depression in mothers, which is associated with adverse cognitive and emotional development in their children (Beck, 1998; DØrheim et al, 2009; Teychenne et al, 2010). Specifically, maternal depressive symptoms at 6 months postpartum have been associated with lower vocabulary scores and higher rates of behavioral issues in children at age 5 years (Brennan et al, 2000).

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