“I feel like a turkey. Not done super well but look okay to eat”: Exploring the complexities of motherhood and physical activity using autophotography


Despite physical activity’s (PA) potential to positively support the mental well-being of postpartum women, recovery, sleep deprivation, parenting, and body image expectations can greatly impact postpartum PA engagement. Yet, self-efficacy and programming specifically for new mothers may facilitate PA postpartum. Guided by critical feminist methodologies, we used autophotography to explore the complexities of postpartum women’s PA experiences. Participants in a larger experimental PA-based study, designed for women within 6-month postpartum were invited to participate. Nine women shared up to six photos, each accompanied by a 2-3 sentence description, depicting their experiences of PA, motherhood, and self-efficacy, resulting in 48 photos. We used Braun and Clarke's (2019) reflexive thematic analysis to analyze data and represented each theme with rich and thick descriptions and a collage of images inspired by Bancroft's (2018) braided narrative. We uncovered four themes that reflected the complex and gendered nature of postpartum PA engagement. First, gendered expectations of motherhood placed demands on time and space for PA engagement. Second, how mothers felt about their bodies both positively and negatively impacted their sense of self and PA engagement. Third, moments of self-compassion illustrated how navigating feelings of self-compassion in relation to PA was messy and strained their well-being. Fourth, self-efficacy was essential, highlighting how a presence or lack of confidence surrounding PA capabilities impacted PA engagement. These findings expand the literature on postpartum women’s PA experiences and may inform inclusive PA programming for postpartum women.