The biopsychosocial barriers and enablers to being physically active following childbirth: a systematic literature review

Catherine Burton, Emily Doyle, Kariss Humber, Camille Rouxel, Steffany Worner, Richard Colman, Shea Palmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Physical activity brings significant health benefits. Childbirth presents many physical, emotional and practical challenges to women and is known to disrupt engagement in regular physical activity. However, the specific barriers and enablers to physical activity in the postpartum period have not yet been systematically identified. Adequate understanding of these issues is crucial before effective interventions can be developed. Objectives: The primary objective was to identify the biopsychosocial barriers and enablers to physical activity following childbirth. Methods: A systematic literature review of qualitative research was conducted. Relevant literature was sourced using five online databases (CINAHL, Maternity and Infant Care, MEDLINE, PsycINFO and PubMed) and primary snowballing. Studies which met the pre-determined inclusion criteria were critically appraised independently by research team members and then collectively discussed to reach consensus. Results: A total of 391 potential records were identified. Following the application of eligibility criteria and removal of duplicates, six qualitative studies remained, all of which identified barriers and enablers to postpartum physical activity. Data demonstrated that lack of time and issues surrounding childcare were the most common barriers to physical activity, whilst a common enabler was social support. Reported benefits of physical activity in the postpartum period included improved mental well-being and weight loss. Conclusions: A number of specific barriers, enablers and benefits were identified. Future research should aim to develop and evaluate postpartum physical activity interventions. Outcomes should be collected prospectively at multiple time points and more diverse participant samples should be recruited.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-155
Number of pages13
JournalPhysical Therapy Reviews
Issue number3-4
Early online date22 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Physical Therapy Reviews on 22/06/2019, available online:

Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.


  • Exercise
  • parturition
  • postpartum period
  • qualitative research
  • review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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