Joanne Murphy and her son, Oliver, during an exercise class.
Melbourne University’s Margaret Sherburn, Emily Norman, Professor Mary Galea and Angliss Hospital’s Helena Frawley at the postnatal exercise and education study launch.
Study shows postnatal exercise reduces depression risk
Exercising for three months after giving birth can reduce the risk of maternal postnatal depression (PND), a University of Melbourne study conducted at Angliss Hospital has revealed.
In a world-first study, 161 postnatal women with no previous depressive symptoms were divided into two separate groups to test the effect of a physiotherapist-led exercise and education program on wellbeing.
The one group received an eight-week Mother and Baby program, including specialised exercises provided by a women’s health physiotherapist combined with parenting education.
In the second group, participants received just the written educational material.
The participants of both groups were assessed for psychological wellbeing after completing the program at eight weeks—and then four weeks after completion.
‘There were significant improvements in wellbeing scores and depressive symptoms in the Mother and Baby group over the study period,’ said study coordinator Emily Norman of the university’s physiotherapy department and women’s health physiotherapist at the Angliss Hospital, Ferntree Gully.
‘This positive effect continued four weeks after completion of the program.
‘The number of women identified as ‘at risk’ for postnatal depression pre-intervention was reduced by 50 per cent in the Mother and Baby group by the end of the intervention.’
Professor Mary Galea, of the University’s Physiotherapy Department and senior author of the study, said by improving new mothers’ wellbeing, the physiotherapy-based program had been shown to have a real impact on reducing the risk of PND.
‘However, further study is needed to explore whether the intervention effects and improved wellbeing are maintained beyond the first three months.’
Postnatal depression is a major health issue affecting up to 13 per cent of all new mothers throughout the world with most cases starting in the first three months of the postnatal period.
The study was published in Physical Therapy, the scientific journal of the American Physical Therapy Association.