Exercise can help new mothers with postnatal depression

'Physical activity has numerous benefits for all patients' physical and mental health'

News Desk August 29, 2017
A pregnant woman. PHOTO: REUTERS

A new study has found that exercising can help women alleviate symptoms of postnatal depression, reported The Telegraph.

Aerobic exercise should be considered as the “management option” for women who have recently given birth and are showing signs of depression, the researchers said. And physical activity could be a potential preventative measure among all postpartum women, they added.

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The researchers, from the University of Birmingham, examined data from 13 trials including 1,734 women. The study was published in the British Journal of General Practice, and concludes that exercise, in either group sessions or individually, is effective in reducing postpartum depressive symptoms.

The authors wrote: "UK clinical guidance recommends psychological therapy and antidepressants for postnatal depression. However, women can be reluctant to take antidepressants postnatally and the availability of psychological therapies is often limited. Given the high prevalence of postpartum depression and the potential for exercise to be a low-cost, freely available intervention, aerobic exercise should be considered as a management option for postpartum women with depressive symptoms and as a potential preventative measure more generally in postpartum women."

However, another study published in the same journal examined women’s experiences with seeking help for postnatal depression. The analysis of 24 UK students which obtained data through interviews and focus groups found that women didn’t seek help because of the ‘stigma’ attached. They often felt under pressure to be “good mothers” and that ‘failure’ impacted negatively on their mental health and likelihood to seek help.

They said this was consistent with other reports which found the fear of failure may cause women to "self-silence". The combined fear of stigma and the high expectations that women have of themselves further undermine their self-worth, increasing distress," they wrote.

Dr Judy Shakespeare, spokesperson for perinatal mental health for the Royal College of GPs, and co-author of the study, said: "Attitudes towards mental health do seem to be improving across society - but a terrible stigma still surrounds mothers with mental health problems, not least from the women themselves. As this paper shows, many women think that if they disclose their concerns, they will be judged negatively or are frightened that social services might get involved.

"We know it takes an enormous amount of courage for women to approach their doctor with concerns, so it is vital that when they do they are taken seriously, not told that what they are feeling is 'normal', and that they feel safe and secure enough to disclose their feelings to healthcare professionals.

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"The routine six-week postnatal check, offered to all new mothers after giving birth, is an important opportunity for GPs and new mothers to discuss issues around mental health and wellbeing - and begin to address any resulting concerns. But it's incredibly hard for GPs to explore all the physical and psychological factors affecting our patients' health within the time constraints of the consultation as it stands. We need these checks to be much longer as standard, so that we are able to give the same attention to the new mother as we do to the baby - but this needs many more resources for our service, many more GPs, and many more practice staff."

On the exercise study, Shakespeare added: "Physical activity has numerous benefits for all patients' physical and mental health - so it's not surprising that this study has found it to have a positive effect on reducing some perinatal mental health issues, such as postnatal depression, in new mothers. "GPs are highly trained to take into account all factors potentially affecting a patient's health when making a diagnosis - including lifestyle factors - and we will use this to develop a treatment plan based on the individual patient in front of us, in conversation with them."


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