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J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2011 Jul;20(7):1025-34. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2010.2091. Epub 2011 Jun 13.

Associations between physical activity and postpartum depressive symptoms.

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Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7435, USA.



Postpartum women are at increased risk for developing depression, which can contribute to the ill health of the mother and her family. Previous research indicates that mothers who are physically active during leisure experience lower levels of postpartum depressive symptoms than do inactive mothers. The objective of this investigation was to examine the associations between total and domain-specific moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and depressive symptoms postpartum.


Data were obtained from 550 women who participated in the Pregnancy, Infection, and Nutrition (PIN) Postpartum Study, a prospective cohort of mothers who delivered liveborn infants from October 2002 to December 2005 in North Carolina. Three-month postpartum MVPA was investigated as a predictor of 12-month postpartum depressive symptoms.


Those who participated in MVPA had two times the odds of developing elevated depressive symptoms at 12 months postpartum than those with no MVPA (odds ratio [OR] 2.00, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.71-6.75). Different associations were suggested when examining domain-specific MVPA. Those participating in adult and child care and indoor household MVPA at 3 months postpartum had more than double the odds of developing elevated depressive symptoms at 12 months postpartum (OR 2.66, 95% CI 1.03, 8.11 and OR 2.72, 95% CI 0.96-10.18, respectively). Work MVPA conferred a doubling of the odds (OR 1.95, 95% CI 0.46-7.13), but recreational and outdoor household MVPA showed no associations with depressive symptoms.


Associations between MVPA and depressive symptoms differed by domain among postpartum women. Future studies of postpartum depressive symptoms should explore reasons for differences in physical activity by domain.

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