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Aerobic exercise could help tackle postnatal depression

Exercise could help women alleviate symptoms of postnatal depression, a new study has found.

Exercise could help women alleviate symptoms of postnatal depression, a new study has found.

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

Researchers from the University of Birmingham examined data from 13 trials including 1,734 women.

Their study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, concludes that exercise – either in group sessions, individually or when added to other interventions – 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

Exercise could help women alleviate symptoms of postnatal depression, a new study has found.


Group or individual work outs can help reduce postpartum depressive symptoms, study has found
Picture: iStock

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

Researchers from the University of Birmingham examined data from 13 trials including 1,734 women.

Their study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, concludes that exercise – either in group sessions, individually or when added to other interventions – 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.'

Seeking help

Meanwhile a separate study published in the same journal examined women's experiences with seeking help for postnatal depression.

The analysis of 24 UK studies which obtained data through interviews and focus groups found that some women did not seek help because of perceived stigma.

The authors said that women felt under pressure to be good mothers and that 'failure' impacted negatively on their mental health and their 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.

Stigma remains

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.

'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 well-being – 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 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, more GPs, and more practice staff.'


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