Barriers and Facilitators to Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Postpartum: A Qualitative Systematic Review

Published:November 24, 2021DOI:



      Postpartum weight retention increases the risk of long-term overweight and obesity and associated comorbidities. Healthy eating and physical activity are important lifestyle behaviors for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. However, these habits may be hard for women to adopt or maintain during the postpartum period.


      To identify and describe barriers and facilitators to healthy eating and physical activity among postpartum women in the United States.


      A qualitative systematic review was conducted. Qualitative studies on women’s experiences with weight loss, healthy eating, and physical activity in the postpartum period were identified using a comprehensive search strategy. The quality of included studies was assessed using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklist. Data were qualitatively analyzed using thematic synthesis. Resulting themes were mapped onto components of the Social-Ecological Model for Food and Physical Activity Decisions.


      Thirteen qualitative studies were included in the review. Barriers and facilitators to healthy eating and physical activity during the postpartum period included individual factors (emotional and mindless eating, physical limitations, and social support), settings and sectors (food environments, childcare needs, and structured information and support), and social and cultural norms (time constraints, and prioritization of maternal responsibilities).


      Researchers and practitioners should consider how factors within various levels of the Social-Ecological Model may influence healthy eating and physical activity in the postpartum period.


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      R. A. Ryan is a PhD candidate, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, New York University, New York City.


      J. D. Bihuniak is an assistant professor of clinical nutrition, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, New York University, New York City.


      H. Lappen is a life sciences librarian, Division of Libraries, New York University, New York City.