Postpartum depressive symptoms: Associations with behavioral and physiological emotion regulation and physical activity

Open Access
Hutt, Rachel L
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 29, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Ginger A Moore, Dissertation Advisor
  • Brian A Rabian, Committee Member
  • Kristin Buss, Committee Member
  • Danielle Symons Downs, Committee Member
  • Postpartum Period
  • Positive Emotions
  • Exercise
  • Maternal Depression
  • Family Interactions
Postpartum depression is a widely researched condition that may have a negative impact on family interactions and infant development. The current study sought to examine factors related to lower levels of depressive symptoms reported by mothers during the postpartum period, including aspects of emotion regulation and physical activity. Forty-six mothers participated in a laboratory visit 5-8 months postpartum in which behavioral and physiological responses were observed during family interactions designed to elicit everyday emotions, with an emphasis on the change in responses as the emotion-eliciting demands of the context changed from negative to positive. Mothers reported on their depressive symptoms and leisure time exercise, and wore a pedometer prior to the visit. Findings indicated that increasing positive expressive behavior as contextual demands shifted was associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms. Moreover, mothers who reported higher levels of physical activity displayed higher levels of positive expressive behavior during a conflict discussion with their partners. These findings suggest that postpartum mothers may benefit from greater physical activity and the ability to use positive emotions to regulate stressful contexts. Future studies should examine postpartum mothers with a wider range of depressive symptoms and physical activity, as well as alternate measures of emotion and emotion regulation.