When you're pregnant, a prescription to stay in bed for days or weeks might seem like a welcome break. You can relax while someone else handles the chores. In reality, however, bed rest during pregnancy can pose challenges. You might not be able to go to work, shop for groceries or meet friends for a movie. If you're on complete bed rest during pregnancy, you might not even be able to shower or eat sitting up.
Bed rest isn't a proven remedy for preventing pregnancy complications or preterm birth. Still, bed rest is sometimes prescribed as a safeguard. Understand the complications that might make bed rest during pregnancy necessary and how to cope.
When bed rest during pregnancy might be recommended
Bed rest during pregnancy increases blood flow to the placenta and can slightly increase a baby's birth weight. Your health care provider might recommend a period of bed rest at any point during pregnancy if you have:
- High blood pressure
- Vaginal bleeding or problems with the placenta
- An incompetent cervix — a condition in which the cervix is likely to open (dilate) prematurely
- Contractions or other signs or symptoms of preterm labor
- A twin or multiple pregnancy
- Signs, symptoms or test results indicating growth problems with the baby
What bed rest means
In some cases, bed rest during pregnancy simply 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. Depending on the demands of your job, 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 most of the time, 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.
If your health care provider prescribes total bed rest during pregnancy, you might need to lie on your side at all times — including when you eat. Personal hygiene might be limited to sponge baths and a bedpan. This type of bed rest might require hospitalization.
Understand bed rest side effects
When you're on bed rest during pregnancy, joint pain and muscle aches are likely. Bed rest also can increase the risk of blood clots, especially in the veins in your legs. Decreased bone mass might be a concern as well.
Emotionally, you might feel confined or isolated. Mood changes, guilt, anxiety and depression are common — and your partner might feel the same. Child care is often a source of stress, and your children might feel frightened or confused. If you're not able to work, finances can become a concern as well.
After delivery, the effects of muscular and cardiovascular deconditioning can linger — slowing your ability to get back to your usual activities.
Know the rules
If your health care provider recommends bed rest during pregnancy, ask plenty of questions to make sure you understand the rules.
- Timing. Why do I need bed rest? 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?
Making the best of it
Remember that each day of bed rest during pregnancy brings you one day closer to delivery. In the meantime, consider these tips:
- Get organized. Make sure everything you need is within reach — such as a phone, laptop computer or other electronic devices, a cooler stocked with water and healthy snacks, tissues, lip balm, hand wipes, the remote control, books and magazines, writing material, and extra pillows and blankets.
- Beat boredom. Email, text or write letters to your friends. Organize photos or start a scrapbook. Knit the baby a sweater. Read your way through the best-seller list. Learn relaxation techniques for labor. Plan weekly menus and grocery lists. Balance the checkbook, pay the bills and update your family's budget. Shop for baby goods online.
- Stay limber. If your health care provider approves, set aside time for stretching or other gentle exercises.
- Accept help. When friends and loved ones ask what they can do, be prepared with a list of specific tasks — mowing the lawn, shopping for groceries, putting together the crib, cleaning the bathroom, taking the kids to the park or simply keeping you company.
- Help older kids adjust. If you have other 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. Remind them that you must stay in bed so the baby will be healthy when he or she is born. Do quiet activities together, such as reading books, coloring or watching movies.
- Seek support. Some days will be better than others. To help maintain a positive attitude, connect with other moms-to-be on bed rest. Check for support groups, bulletin boards and chat rooms online.
- Expect emotional challenges. Share your fears, hopes and concerns with your partner. Let each other vent if needed. If sex isn't allowed, look for other ways to maintain intimacy. Take time to kiss, hug and caress.
If the isolation or frustration of bed rest during pregnancy is more than you can handle, consult your health care provider or a mental health provider for additional support. Remember, bed rest won't last forever. Focus on staying healthy and the day you'll be able to hold your baby in your arms.