Coping with Bed Rest

When is bed rest in pregnancy necessary? About six to seven percent of all pregnant women go into preterm labor, sometimes in the second trimester, but more often in the third trimester. Sometimes, there is no explanation for why the preterm labor occurs. preterm labor consists of contractions that start opening the cervix before the 37th week of pregnancy. Generally, women who are at a higher risk for preterm birth have one or more complications, including (but not limited to):

  • Previous preterm birth
  • Dilated cervix
  • Expecting twins, triplets or more
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Abnormally shaped uterus
  • Pre-existing medical conditions
  • Placental problems
  • Problems with the amniotic sac or amniotic fluid
  • Previous miscarriages or abortions
  • Infections

High-Risk Pregnancy and Bed Rest

If you develop a high-risk complication and signs of possible preterm labor, such as a dilated cervix, your doctor may request that you stay in bed. Bed rest can be "partial," meaning you need to spend part of each day lying down and resting; you need to reduce your activities and take it easy. Bed rest can also be "complete," meaning you need to be lying down at all times. Complete bed rest can even mean hospitalization. Often, doctors will recommend total, therapeutic bed rest, because it has several specific benefits.

Total bed rest decreases pressure of your baby on your cervix and reduces cervical stretching, which may cause premature contractions and miscarriage. It also increases blood flow to the placenta, helping your baby receive the maximum nutrition and oxygen possible. This is particularly important if your baby is not growing as rapidly as it should be. Bed rest can sometimes result in improved blood pressure and decreased swelling. Lying down, particularly on your left side, improves blood circulation to your heart and uterus, and to your baby.

Sometimes bed rest is prescribed for the remainder of your pregnancy, and sometimes it's only for a few days or weeks. Days, weeks or months of forced inactivity -- ranging from limiting your activity to total bed rest -- can be difficult. To help relieve you of anxiety, try to get some reliable household help on a regular basis. Relatives, friends, neighbors and even co-workers are usually more than happy to be of assistance during this challenging time. If you work outside the home, check your company's leave policy and make sure it adheres to new laws regarding maternity leave versus sick leave. Notify your employer about how long you anticipate being absent, if possible.

Effects of Bed Rest

When you are on bed rest, your muscles will lose tone and your joints may begin to ache. Try to change position, from one side to the other, every hour or two. This will decrease discomfort in your hips and lower back. You may find it more comfortable using pillows to support your abdomen, back, head and shoulders. Do not lie flat on your back, except for short stretches to ease cramped muscles. Limited exercise in bed will help your muscle tone and circulation, but don't start doing sit-ups or stretches before checking with your doctor.

Whether you are restricted to bed rest at home or in the hospital, you should arrange your room so that all of your necessities are within arm's length. If at home, set up one room where you can rest undisturbed for as long as you are confined to your bed. Keep some activities or hobbies on hand that will keep you occupied and help make your days more pleasant.

This is a good time to catch up on letters, reading or putting your photos into albums. Take up a hobby such as knitting, embroidery or drawing. Organizing a daily schedule without being too rigid may also help you feel better psychologically and physically. Divide each day into scheduled periods: a time for telephoning your office, speaking to friends or relatives, reading, watching television, paying bills and being with your other children. Take pictures and keep a diary when on bed rest, because someday you'll want to tell the story of this incredible pregnancy when your baby is old enough to understand.