The Risks Of Being On
Bed Rest

Bed rest is prescribed for high-risk pregnancies for a number of reasons. But new research suggests bed rest may not be as beneficial as we believe. Experts break it down for us.

Pregnant woman resting in bed |

Photo credit: View Stock/Getty Images

Why is bed rest prescribed?

Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB-GYN at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and owner of Her Viewpoint says, "Bed rest has been used for some time by doctors for women who may have complications during their pregnancies." She says that these complications can range from

  • Vaginal bleeding or problems with the placenta
  • An incompetent cervix — a condition in which the cervix is likely to open (dilate) prematurely
  • Contractions and other advanced signs or symptoms of preterm labor
  • A twin or multiple pregnancy
  • Signs, symptoms or test results indicating fetal growth problems

However, she says that bed rest is now not as often prescribed as it can pose risks to the pregnancy such as blood clots. She says, "If the woman stays stationary and does not move at all it will increase the risk of blood clots much more than when a woman is not pregnant."

Defining bed rest

Naturally, we have to wonder why doctors would still prescribe bed rest for pregnant women if it could be potentially dangerous. However, Dr. Shepherd explains, "Some doctors still prescribe bed rest — however bed rest does not always mean that the woman should be confined to the bed for the remainder of the pregnancy. Bed rest can simply mean decreasing your activity level for a period of time. Most times when obstetricians recommend bed rest they still allow the women to move about the house and even return to work depending on the type of work as long as they avoid lifting children and doing heavy housework."

Stay healthy to avoid bed rest

To prevent being prescribed bed rest or decreased activity, Dr. Shepherd suggests that pregnant women stay healthy within the pregnancy by "eating healthy, exercising as prescribed by their doctors and also taking any prescribed medications during the pregnancy for conditions that can put the mom and baby at risk such as high blood pressure and diabetes."

If your doctor recommends bed rest, Dr. Shepherd says women can avoid the risks by making sure "they do some level of activity — even walking to the bathroom or around the house can be safe. Also sitting in a chair every few hours can help the circulation of blood in the body and keep it from staying still which allows it to form clots within the veins."

She continues, "Staying hydrated is also important and eating foods that are healthy to prevent high blood pressure with salty foods and possible diabetes with foods that are high in sugar content. When in bed, the best position is on your side, with the left side being preferred and the right side as an alternative when the left gets sore. It helps to rest with your knees or hips bent. The use of pillows between the knees also helps to relieve stress on the back."

Dr. Shepherd adds that mild exercises can help while in bed, and also keep the blood flowing. She suggests exercises including

  • Squeezing stress balls
  • Pressing your hands and feet against the bed
  • Turning your arms and feet in circles·
  • Tensing or tightening your arm and leg muscles

Emotional effects of bed rest

In addition to the physical effects of being on bed rest, Dr. Shepherd notes bed rest can have an emotional impact. "Women should pay attention to how it makes them feel emotionally, as the confinement and isolation can cause mood changes. These can range from guilt, anxiety and depression. Therefore it is important to discuss these feelings with your provider."

In addition to how bed rest makes you feel emotionally, Dr. Fran Walfish, child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, says a woman being put on bed rest can impact her whole family, particularly her other children. "I have treated many 2- and 3-year-olds who have suffered the prolonged loss and abandonment of their mothers who while on bed rest cannot lift their toddlers or function in the regular normal way the child is used to. That toddler not only must move over and share Mommy with the new baby (metaphorically lose Mommy), but in reality that older toddler really does lose Mommy for an extended period of time. The result can be devastating on the entire family," Dr. Walfish adds.

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