Women moving forward in pictures: Using digital photographs to explore postpartum women's physical activity experiences


While much research sees physical activity as an intervention for the postpartum body, there is a lack of literature understanding how postpartum physical activity affects women's mental health and physical well-being. Unpacking how physical activity affects postpartum women holistically is critical because of the negative physical and mental health consequences accompanying the postpartum period. Thus, the purpose of this study was to use digital photographs to explore women's experiences engaging in physical activity during the first-year post-partum. Autophotography was used as it encouraged postpartum women to share a photograph illustrating their physical activity experiences. This method helped better understand how participants believed physical activity impacted their mental health and physical well-being. Fifty women (Mage = 31.82 years; Mage of infant = 6.22 months) submitted photos with a short text description explaining its context and what it represented. A reflexive thematic analysis was used to analyze the photos through a critical feminist lens. Study findings were organized into three themes. Postpartum women engaging in physical activity experienced feelings of empowerment, that helped heal the body and mind while reconnecting with their athletic identity. Doing so meant adapting their physical activity to motherhood or around motherhood. Finally, the women navigated many obstacles, including the COVID-19 pandemic, weather, and finding activewear that fit their changing bodies. Insights into these experiences may inform health promoters, healthcare professionals, recreation community organizers, and women's support networks to understand their needs when engaging in physical activity during the postpartum period.

Acknowledgments: This research was funded, in part, by the Brock University's Vice-President Research Discretionary Fund and Brock University's Faculty of Applied Health Sciences.