Pregnancy Bed Rest
What is bed rest?
If your pregnancy care provider recommends bed rest, it means they’re concerned about a health condition that could cause pregnancy complications or premature labor. Your provider may put you on bed rest for a few weeks or several months. Healthcare providers sometimes prescribe bed rest during pregnancy to increase the chances of your pregnancy being carried to term. Carrying your baby to term means you’re pregnant at least 37 weeks before your baby is born. Bed rest can mean several things like restricting your activities, being admitted to the hospital or staying in bed at home.
Some studies suggest bed rest during pregnancy doesn’t help reduce complications or prevent preterm labor. However, many providers still see the benefit of bed rest and believe it leads to more successful outcomes. Other providers don’t think the risks outweigh the benefits. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) doesn’t recommend bed rest as a routine treatment. They, instead, recommend reducing your usual activities instead of stopping your activities entirely.
Different types of pregnancy bed rest
Bed rest can mean several things. There isn’t one standard definition, so talk to your healthcare provider about what you’re permitted and not permitted to do on bed rest.
Some forms of bed rest are:
- Strict or complete bed rest: This is the most extreme form of bed rest and involves staying in bed most of the day (either in the hospital or at home). In some cases, you may use a bedpan (to pee) and not leave your bed.
- Activity restriction: This means reducing your typical activities and avoiding standing or walking for long periods. It may involve restrictions on lifting objects or using stairs. This term is gaining more acceptance instead of the term bed rest.
- Modified bed rest: Very similar to activity restriction, modified bed rest usually means you’re sitting or lying down most of the day. It allows for taking short walks a few times per day or doing light housework.
It’s OK to ask your healthcare provider to define bed rest based on your condition so you’re both on the same page.
What are the reasons for bed rest during pregnancy?
Your healthcare provider may recommend bed rest to decrease your chances of early labor or to help treat a pregnancy condition that could lead to complications for you or the fetus. The most common reasons for bed rest during pregnancy are:
- Preeclampsia: A potentially dangerous condition that includes swelling, increased blood pressure and protein in your urine.
- Vaginal bleeding: Bleeding due to placenta previa (the placenta covers part or all of your cervix) or placental abruption (the placenta detaches from your uterine wall prematurely).
- Premature labor: Labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy.
- Incompetent cervix: A weak cervix that may open (dilate) prematurely.
- Cervical effacement: Thinning of your cervix.
- Expecting multiples: Carrying two or more fetuses.
- Previous pregnancy complications: Can include fetal loss, stillbirth or premature birth.
- Intrauterine growth restriction: When the fetus measures small for its age.
Remember, you can ask your healthcare provider for their reasons for prescribing bed rest and ask them to explain their recommendation.
What should I ask my doctor about bed rest?
If your healthcare provider recommends bed rest during pregnancy, you should feel safe asking them questions. Some questions to ask include:
- Why do you recommend bed rest?
- What benefits does bed rest have for the fetus?
- What am I allowed and not allowed to do?
- What position should I be lying or sitting in?
- How many minutes should I be on my feet per day?
- How many hours should I be in bed each day?
- Am I allowed to have sex?
- What are the risks of bed rest?
- Do I need to be on bed rest for the rest of my pregnancy?
- What symptoms should I watch out for?
How does bed rest help during pregnancy?
There’s no solid research either for or against bed rest. Many healthcare providers believe it’s worth trying if it may increase the chances of a successful pregnancy. For providers that support bed rest, they believe it:
- Helps decrease stress.
- Reduces pressure on your cervix.
- Helps reduce blood pressure.
- May help the placenta work better at transporting nutrients and oxygen to the fetus.
However, other providers believe bed rest causes more harm without leading to better pregnancy outcomes.
What am I allowed and not allowed to do if I am on bed rest during pregnancy?
Your healthcare provider will give you specific information about your activity level. This will depend on the reasons you’re on bed rest. Some people must remain in bed or on a couch for most of the day, while others may only need to modify their activity level.
Examples of activities that are usually allowed are:
- Walking to the bathroom.
- Alternating sitting up and lying down throughout the day.
- Short walks inside your home or outside (less than 20 minutes).
- Standing for up to 20 minutes at a time.
- Working at a desk.
- Limited stair climbing (once per day).
- One shower per day.
Everyone is different. It’s best to talk to your provider about your specific restrictions. Generally speaking, the activities that aren’t permitted include:
- Any activity that lasts more than 30 minutes standing or walking at a time.
- Lifting anything heavier than 20 pounds.
- Placing anything in your vagina.
- Having sexual intercourse of any kind.
- Working a job that requires a lot of walking or standing.
Check with your provider to make sure you know what activities are permitted while you’re on bed rest.
Do I need to lay down if I am on pregnancy bed rest?
Many pregnant people are advised to lie on their side during bed rest with their legs bent. This maximizes blood flow to your uterus. Some healthcare providers also recommend:
- Placing a pillow between your knees.
- Putting a pillow behind your back, under your belly or under your hip.
- Switching sides every hour to relieve pressure on your joints and muscles.
Are there any exercises I can do while lying down?
Your healthcare provider can recommend safe ways to exercise while on bed rest. For example, rolling your ankles, wrists and neck in circles or squeezing a stress ball can help encourage blood circulation.
Can I drive myself to office visits?
Depending on the type of bed rest prescribed, your healthcare provider may tell you to have someone else drive you to prenatal appointments. While you may be permitted to walk from your car to the entrance of your provider’s office, you should avoid long walks and standing for long periods of time.
Will I be able to take care of my other children while on bed rest?
If your healthcare provider has advised strict bed rest, you’ll have to make arrangements for child care during the day and at night. While challenging for you and your family, try to provide some stability in your other children’s routine. For example, participate in activities with your children you can do while sitting down, such as watching a movie, helping them with homework or reading a book.
How can I prevent becoming constipated during my bed rest?
Constipation is a common side effect of bed rest during pregnancy. Eating a well-balanced diet with extra fiber and drinking enough water may help prevent constipation. If constipation becomes a problem, your healthcare provider may advise you to take a bulk laxative, such as Metamucil®, or a stool softener, such as Colace®.
What can I do while on bed rest?
Bed rest can be challenging, so it’s important to be organized and establish a daily routine. Take a shower and get dressed every day. Make sure that you have certain items close by. These items could include:
- A laptop computer or tablet.
- Your phone.
- A TV remote.
- Books and magazines.
- A pen and paper.
- Hand sanitizer or lotion.
- Lip balm.
- A nail file, makeup or other cosmetics.
- Healthy snacks and water.
Being on bed rest can get boring. The following activities may give you something to do to fight off boredom.
- Read or join a virtual book club.
- Call, email or text friends.
- Listen to a podcast or audiobook.
- Do crossword puzzles or color in a coloring book.
- Scrapbook, knit or find a new hobby.
- Watch movies or start a new TV series.
- Write letters or journal.
- Find something to organize while sitting, such as a photo album or your computer files.
Are there any disadvantages to bed rest during pregnancy?
Yes, there are risks to bed rest during pregnancy. Some research suggests the risks outweigh the potential benefits. Some disadvantages include:
- Blood clots.
- Depression or anxiety.
- Stress on the family, including loss of income, child care issues and more.
- Weakened muscles and bones from lack of activity.
- Reduced cardiovascular activity, which may impact blood flow and oxygen levels.
- Aches and pains in your back or hips from sitting or lying down.
- Increased pregnancy symptoms like heartburn and insomnia.
Remember, only you and your healthcare provider can decide what is best for you. If you feel uncomfortable with your provider’s recommendation, you can seek a second opinion or consult with a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.
Can bed rest affect my postpartum recovery?
This depends on how long you’ve been on bed rest. If you’ve been inactive for a long time, you may experience muscle weakness and lack of energy after delivery. A physical therapist or a massage therapist may be able to help you minimize these effects. Having help during the postpartum time is important. In those first few weeks, try to rest or sleep when your baby sleeps, eat healthy food and snacks and delegate chores so that you can recover.
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
Call your healthcare provider if you’re on bed rest and:
- You have signs of a blood clot like pain in your legs or in your chest.
- You’re leaking amniotic fluid or have signs of labor like a bloody show or losing your mucus plug.
- You don’t feel the fetus move.
- You feel dizzy, faint, develop a fever or are short of breath.
- Pelvic or abdominal pain.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Being put on bed rest during pregnancy can make you feel scared, frustrated or even relieved. The medical community isn’t entirely certain that bed rest is effective at preventing pregnancy complications or early labor. However, some providers prescribe bed rest to give you and the fetus the best possible outcome. Check with your healthcare provider about what activities you’re allowed and not allowed to do while on bed rest. They will have specific instructions based on your condition and situation. While it may be boring and upsetting to stay still, try to stay positive and think happy thoughts about meeting your baby soon.
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