Physical activity during pregnancy and postpartum depression: Systematic review and meta-analysis

J Affect Disord. 2019 Mar 1;246:29-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.12.009. Epub 2018 Dec 12.


Background: It is still largely unknown whether physical activity (PA) during pregnancy may be useful to avert subsequent postpartum depression (PPD). We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to determine the preventive effects of PA during pregnancy on PPD.

Methods: A systematic review of English and non-English articles was conducted using CINAHL, Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, PsycINFO, MEDLINE, SportDiscuss and Web of Science databases. Studies which tested the effect of any type of PA measured during pregnancy on depression or depressive symptoms in the first year postpartum were included. Relevant articles were extracted independently by 2 authors using predefined data fields, including study quality indicators. The protocol was registered on PROSPERO (CRD42018087086).

Results: Twenty one studies, fit our selection criteria. Among them, seventeen studies were included in the meta-analysis, representing 93 676 women. Robust Variance Estimation random-effects meta-analysis indicated a significant reduction in postpartum depression scores (Overall SMD = -0.22 [95% CI -0.42 to -0.01], p = 0.04; I2 = 86.4%) for women physically active during pregnancy relative to those who were not active. This association was reinforced in intervention studies (SMD = -0.58 [9% CI -1.09 to -0.08]).

Limitations: Overall meta-analysis showed important heterogeneity in PA assessment, suggesting the existence of potential moderators such as intensity, frequency, trimester of pregnancy or type of physical activity practiced.

Conclusions: PA during pregnancy appears to reduce the risk of PPD symptoms. High quality studies addressing the role of PA in the perinatal period and its impact on new mother's mental health remain necessary.

Keywords: Depression; Exercise; Meta-analysis; Postpartum; Pregnancy; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression, Postpartum / prevention & control
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors