When you're pregnant, a prescription to stay in bed might seem like a welcome break. In reality, however, restrictions on movement during pregnancy can pose challenges and even certain health risks. Here's what you need to know.
What is bed rest and is it recommended?
Bed rest during pregnancy is no longer recommended for most conditions. While bed rest increases blood flow to the placenta, there is no evidence that it decreases the risk of premature birth.
In the rare situations when bed rest is recommended, it is prescribed at varying levels of activity restriction. In some cases, it means decreasing your activity level for a period of time. You might be free to move about the house, as long as you avoid lifting children and doing heavy housework. You might even be able to continue working.
In other cases, bed rest guidelines are stricter. You might need to remain in a sitting or reclining position, only getting up to use the toilet or shower. You might not be allowed to work or do even light household chores until the baby is born.
What is pelvic rest and when is it recommended?
Pelvic rest might be recommended if you have a condition such as the placenta partially or totally covering your cervix (placenta previa), you're at increased risk of preterm labor, or you have abdominal surgery during pregnancy.
Pelvic rest consists of avoiding activities that might increase pelvic pressure or pelvic muscle contractions, including:
- Use of tampons
- Repetitive squatting
- Brisk walking or other lower body exercises
Understand the side effects
Bed rest during pregnancy can pose health risks, including:
- A blood clot in a deep vein, such as a vein in your leg (venous thromboembolism)
- Decreased bone mass (bone demineralization)
- Musculoskeletal and cardiovascular deconditioning
- Maternal weight loss or weight gain
- Stress due to self-blame, child care issues, and concerns about job loss or finances
- An increased risk of depression and anxiety
Know the rules
If your health care provider recommends restrictions on movement during pregnancy, ask questions to make sure you understand the rules.
- Timing. Why do I need it? When will it begin? Will the restrictions be lifted if my symptoms improve?
- Position. Is it OK to sit up? For how long? Can I climb the stairs? When I lie down, do I need to use a certain position? What can I do to help prevent blood clots?
- Personal hygiene. Is it OK to get up to use the toilet, take a shower, or wash my hair?
- Activity. Is it OK to eat dinner at the table? Can I fold laundry or do other light chores? Can I drive a car? Is it OK to do gentle stretching or other types of exercise?
- Sex. Is it OK to have sex? What about oral sex? Masturbation? Orgasms?
Coping with movement restrictions
To make the best of the situation:
- Get organized. Make sure everything you need is within reach.
- Beat boredom. Email, text, or write letters. Organize photos or start a scrapbook. Shop for baby goods online. Read your way through the best-seller list. Learn relaxation techniques for labor.
- Stay limber. If your health care provider approves, walk, stretch, or do gentle exercises.
- Accept help. When friends and loved ones ask what they can do, be prepared with a list of tasks—mowing the lawn, putting away groceries, building the crib, cleaning the bathroom, taking the kids to the park, or keeping you company.
- Help older kids adjust. If you have children, provide as much stability as you can—whether it's a regular baby sitter in the morning, a favorite aunt to pick them up from school, or weekend visits from grandparents. Read books, color, or watch movies together.
- Seek support. To maintain a positive attitude, connect with other moms-to-be on bed rest or those who have been through it. Check for support groups online. If you're having trouble coping, ask your health care provider or mental health provider for additional help.
- Expect emotional challenges. Share your fears, hopes, and concerns with your partner. Let each other vent. If sex isn't allowed, look for other ways to maintain intimacy.
Remember, complete bed rest during pregnancy is typically no longer recommended, except in rare circumstances. If your health care provider recommends bed rest, ask him or her to discuss the reasons and if pelvic rest is an alternative. In the meantime, focus on staying healthy and the day you'll be able to hold your baby in your arms.
Publication Date: 2005-05-23