Evidence for the importance of accumulating sufficient physical activity in the early years is mounting. This study aimed to determine the relationship between maternal and infant objectively measured physical activity, and to examine the diurnal interactions between these behaviours while accounting for potential covariates.
Mothers and infants (n = 152 pairs; infants aged 3-24 months) were recruited from Soweto, South Africa, and physical activity was measured using a wrist worn accelerometer (Axivity AX3, Axivity Ltd., Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK) for 3-7 days. Mothers completed sleep diaries recording night time-in-bed (used as a proxy for nocturnal sleep status) for themselves and their infant; and reported times during which their infant was in their personal care (caregiver status) for each day during the measurement period. Significant correlates of infant physical activity, as well as the interactions between mother's physical activity, day of the week, sleep status, and caregiver status, were included in panel regression analyses with infant physical activity as the outcome.
There was an equal distribution of boys and girls, and their age ranged from 2.6 to 24.5 months. The majority of mothers (73%) did not spend any time apart from their infant. During weekdays, the combined effect of mother's physical activity (β=0.11), the interactions between mother's physical activity and caregiver status (β=0.17), and sleep status (β= - 0.04) on infant physical activity was β=0.24; while during weekend days this association was β=0.21; and was largely moderated by the interaction between the mother being with the infant and her activity levels (β=0.23), but partly attenuated by mother's physical activity independent of other variables (β= - 0.04). For each hour of the day, for both mother and infant, peaks of physical activity were higher when the mother was not the primary caregiver.
Infant physical activity levels were strongly associated with their mother's activity levels particularly during the week; this relationship was stronger when mothers were more active while looking after their infant. Mothers should be encouraged to be active when looking after their children, particularly during the week, and to provide infants with as much opportunity to be active as possible.