Risk perceptions of physical activity during pregnancy

A reduction in the level of physical activity from pre-pregnancy to pregnancy appears to be a general problem, despite the obvious health benefits of physical activity. Quantitative studies suggest that pregnant women’s fears might explain why they reduce their level of physical activity, but still no qualitative research has investigated the experiences influencing these women. This study aimed to explore healthy women’s perceptions of risk associated with physical activity during pregnancy. An interpretive narrative approach was used to gain insight into pregnant women’s personal stories and lived experiences. Five Danish pregnant women aged 26-36 years participated in semi-structured, in-depth interviews between September and December 2010. The analysis method was based on two types of narrative inquiry: (1) a narrative analysis to cover the story, and (2) a paradigmatic analysis to cover the themes. Most of the pregnancy stories highlighted a specific experience, which made the women anxious. These experiences were: previous miscarriages, fertility treatment and shortened cervix. Also bodily challenges and pain scared the women, such as hypertonic pelvic muscles, Braxton Hicks contractions, abdominal pain, exhaustion, and shortness of breath. The stories also described the effects of women’s relatives and friends on their perceptions of risk.

Special consideration should be given to pregnant women who have had negative experiences in previous pregnancies and bodily challenges, which make them anxious and discourage them from being physically active. Healthcare professionals could also pay attention to the fact that women’s relatives and friends play a major role in women’s perceptions of risk.