Exercising after you have a baby: tips for better mental health

Deakin researchers are removing common barriers to exercise and providing 24/7 advice and motivation to help new mums be more active and support their mental health. Dr Megan Teychenne, Senior Lecturer in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and a member of the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), hopes her new trial […]

Deakin researchers are removing common barriers to exercise and providing 24/7 advice and motivation to help new mums be more active and support their mental health.

Dr Megan Teychenne, Senior Lecturer in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and a member of the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), hopes her new trial will help women meet their recommended activity levels, and in turn benefit their mental health at a critical point in their lives – as new mums.

“We already know that women are at higher risk of poor mental health – they are twice as likely to experience depression compared to men,” said Dr Teychenne.

Dr Teychenne said previous research had found women were more likely to prioritise family commitments and household management above their own health and wellbeing. “Mums put themselves last, and physical activity is often right at the bottom of that list,” she said.

Juggling work commitments and even the historically lower media coverage of female athletes can all impact a woman’s motivation to exercise, said Dr Teychenne.

“It’s hard for most mums to get enough activity, but being a new mum adds a whole other dimension. There are additional barriers, such as unpredictable feeding routines, disrupted sleep, a lack of childcare, the weather – sometimes, just getting out of the house can be daunting,” she said.

Dr Teychenne said her 12-week study hopes to provide a physical activity intervention for new mums in the early months, to support better mental health through exercise. “There is a direct link between physical activity and mental health – exercise isn’t just beneficial for treating mental health problems, it also helps prevent symptoms developing,” she said.

The study will include providing new mothers with exercise equipment they can use in their own home, as well as giving them access to a smartphone app that offers information on when and how to start exercising after giving birth, tips on overcoming common barriers to exercise, dietary information for new mums, and advice on how to look after their wellbeing.

Dr Teychenne says she is currently recruiting participants for her study. If you are a new mum (3-9 months postpartum) and get less than 150 minutes of physical activity a week, you may be eligible! Take our short survey here.

Tips to help new mums get active:

  • Be social – social physical activity is beneficial for mental health, but isn’t always possible without planning! Get in touch with a friend you haven’t seen in a little while, and take a walk together.
  • Break it up – if you haven’t got the time for a full 30 minutes of activity in one go, break it into shorter sessions across the day.
  • Use active ‘transport’ – If you have to drive to the shops, consider parking 5-10 minutes away, popping your baby into the pram and walking the rest of the way.
  • Bring baby along – get involved in fitness activities where you can bring your child, such as swimming classes. If structured classes are too expensive, you could even listen to music and dance around at home!