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Overlooked & Underserved - Our COVID-19 Pandemic Research

In 2020, we launched our first 'Lockdown' survey - in fact, it was our breakout activity as a new charity. We went on to repeat the survey during the second and third national periods and in doing so, captured the impact COVID-19 was having on pregnant and postnatal women’s physical activity engagement. You can therefore imagine our pride in being able to announce the publication of a report into our findings.

Pregnant woman holding yoga pose at home
Overlooked & Underserved

Relatively little is known about how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted physical activity in pregnant and postnatal women. Using data collected during each of the three COVID-19 lockdown periods in the United Kingdom (April – July 2020; October – December 2020; January – April 2021), our report describes pregnant and postnatal women’s physical activity engagement, opportunities to be active, and resources to support physical activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Overlooked & underserved:' produced by Dr Kathryn Hesketh, Dr Stephanie Hanley, Chloe Hillyar, Dr Medbh Hillyard, and Dr Marlize DeVivo, makes several recommendations which go beyond providing provision and resources for women during a pandemic or lockdown situation. Lessons learnt during this time can be applied now and in the future, so it's well worth the read.

Women reported low levels of physical activity compared to pre-lockdown, with their opportunities and ability to be active being negatively impacted by the pandemic. However, women perceived themselves to be more active during the lockdowns, compared to pre-pandemic, highlighting the potential mismatch between their perceived and actual physical activity levels.

Worryingly, this report found that only 52% of pregnant and 43% of postnatal women had been given information about being active at any point during their pregnancy or after childbirth. Additionally, 80% of pregnant and postnatal women felt there was a lack of information about the activities that were safe for them to perform. This highlights the importance of healthcare professionals being equipped with the knowledge, skills and confidence to discuss the national physical activity guidelines and thereby empowering women to make informed decisions around their physical activity engagement.

“Limited information suggests that during their transition to motherhood, women are less active than the general population; the pandemic lockdowns reduced their ability to be active even further. Some of this was environmental, for example, the closure of swimming pools may have disproportionately impacted pregnant women, particularly later in pregnancy. However, other factors, such as lack of childcare, remain a consistent barrier. Given that the benefits of being active for both mums and babies are increasingly clear, this report shines a light on how we can better support women to be active. For healthcare and fitness professionals, it provides further evidence of their important role in supporting pregnant and postnatal women to feel safe and happy engaging in physical activity, in a way that is right for them.”

The report concludes with nine key recommendations, including,

(1) the need to adopt a whole systems approach (involving women, health and fitness professionals, and wider industry stakeholders) to better support pregnant and postnatal women to engage in the recommended levels of physical activity;

(2) the need to upskill more fitness professionals to ensure women can be confident in their fitness professional’s ability to support their perinatal needs; and

(3) the need to increase the provision of high quality, evidence-based pregnant and postnatal classes, both online and in-person to ensure there are suitable opportunities for women to be active.

Dr Marlize De Vivo, author and CEO of The Active Pregnancy Foundation, said:

“With COVID-19 cases on the rise again, we have a duty to take forward our learnings and must act now to ensure that pregnant and postnatal women are better supported to be active in a way that works for them, whether that is from the comfort of their home, online, or in open spaces.”

To access the full report click here.

*Where referring to 'women' and 'mothers', this should be taken to include people who do not identify as female but who are pregnant.

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