Approximately 18 percent of women in the United States are placed on bed rest during pregnancy to help prevent complications. Bed rest is often prescribed for conditions such as preterm contractions, bleeding or elevated blood pressure. Although it may sound like a welcome break from work, childcare and chores, bed rest for a prolonged period can be enough to drive any woman out of her mind.
Even though it’s important for you to restrict your activity when placed on bed rest, you don’t always need to stay glued to your bed. Sometimes bed rest means decreased activity, in which you are free to move about your home, but are restricted regarding work, grocery shopping and exercise.
Other times, bed rest is stricter, and you are only allowed to get up to go to the bathroom or shower. Strict bed rest for a prolonged period is less common today, as recent medical evidence shows it may not improve outcomes and, in rare cases, can be detrimental since it may increase the risk for blood clots and leave women deconditioned.
Finally, your provider may prescribe pelvic rest, rather than total bed rest. This means no intercourse or use of tampons, etc. Be sure you understand exactly what type of rest your provider is recommending for you.
Tips and suggestions on how to deal with mandatory decreased activity follow.
• Eat well. Good nutrition during this time will be crucial to your — as well as your baby’s — health. Eat a variety of foods, including at least four servings of vegetables and two-to-four servings of fruit per day. Iron-rich foods such as greens and beans will help improve your blood levels, or hematocrit. Cutting down on sugar and saturated fats will help keep your energy level up.
• Move your muscles. You can do some basic exercises to keep your muscles active, while still resting in a chair or in bed. Try performing range-of-motion exercises with your arms and shoulders (hold arms out and move them in circles) or your ankles (draw circles with your ankles). You can also do light weight lifting with your arms, using a shampoo bottle, for example. (Confirm with your provider that such movements are allowed.)
• Stay mentally active. Use your newly found free time to catch up with long-lost friends via e-mail or phone. Or, perhaps, you can use the time to research your diagnosis so that you remain actively involved in your healthcare. Reliable sources include the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Pregnancy Association.
• Stay on schedule. Maintain regular sleep cycles by avoiding sleeping during the day so that you can get at least eight hours of sleep at night. It may help to create a daily schedule, designating times for meals, light exercise, family, television, etc.
• Avoid depression. It can be easy to let your emotions get the best of you during this time. Common sentiments for women confined to bed rest include nervousness, guilt and anger. Rates of depression tend to be higher in women hospitalized or on bed rest during their pregnancies. Depression can be associated with poor birth outcomes, so it’s important to surround yourself with a good support network. Allow your family members and friends to visit and talk with you. Always remember that the key to a healthy baby is a healthy, happy mother.
Nandini Raghuraman, MD, MS, is a resident in obstetrics/gynecology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.