Postpartum depression is a prevalent condition (American Psychological Association, 2018). Untreated postpartum depression can have serious consequences for the mother and baby (McCurdy, Boule, Sivak, & Davenport, 2017). Traditional treatment options may not be feasible. Exercise is an effective treatment for adults with depression (McCurdy et al., 2017). Less is known about treating postpartum depression with exercise. This review of the literature sought to understand in postpartum mothers, how a regimen of regular exercise, compared to no regular exercise, impacted the perception of wellbeing and/or postpartum depression scores. The Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) Plus with Full Text, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, PubMed, and SAGE Journals were searched for relevant research articles using keyword combinations and no parameters on publication dates. Studies included focused on exercise during the postpartum period and studies measuring the subjective and objective impact of exercise. Studies were excluded from the review if the effects of exercise were studied during pregnancy or if the exercise was poorly defined. The design of studies included were four randomized controlled trials (RCTs), one quasi-experimental, one systematic review of RCTs, one retrospective cohort, and one cross-sectional. Results showed that exercise may be a useful treatment for postpartum depression. Other benefits included decreased levels of fatigue, increased physical fitness, and weight loss. One strength of the review is that most studies included well-designed RCTs and all used validated tools to measure postpartum depression scores and fatigue. Limitations included not knowing if participants were concurrently using psychotherapy and antidepressants, gaps in the research, lack of generalizability, and multiple barriers to implementation. In conclusion, exercise can be used as an adjunct therapy for postpartum depression. Future research should focus on specific types of exercise, frequency, and timing needed to affect postpartum depression.


Rhonda Cornell

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)


School of Nursing


Allied Health and Nursing



Rights Statement

In Copyright