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Coping With Bed Rest

What do you do when your doctor orders total bed rest, and it's still weeks or months from labor day? It can be a lonely and scary time, but there are ways to help cope with the situation.
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WebMD Feature

Short of being a professional mattress tester, there are probably few times in life when an otherwise able-bodied person would wish to lie in bed for weeks or months on end.

But each year, an estimated 700,000 women with high-risk pregnancies or complications are ordered to bed by their doctors. There, they face a host of physical problems caused by lack of activity, and emotional issues related to boredom and isolation.

Candace Hurley understands those issues all too well, having spent about half of each of her two pregnancies lying down.

"The first time it happened, I was 20 weeks pregnant, so I was only half-way into my pregnancy. I'd had some vague twinges that were not painful, but I didn't know what they were," says Hurley, founder and executive director of Sidelines National Support Network, a resource for women and families who are experiencing complicated pregnancies. "Luckily, I had a very responsive physician, who said 'Nobody knows her body better than an infertility patient -- come on in.' He saved my baby for sure."

When he examined her, he found that her cervix was 80% effaced (thinned out -- a sign of early labor), and she was having contractions that lasted about 100 seconds and were spaced only five minutes apart. She went on bed rest from that moment on and remained in bed for 14 weeks until her water broke. Then she went to the hospital for delivery.

As hard as it was to spend a long stretch stretched out, she'd do it again to give her child every chance, she says.

"I told my doctor at the time, 'You can hang me from my ankles in a hospital -- just do what you can to save this child," she says.

Hurley didn't have to hang by her ankles, but to many women consigned to enforced repose, that might be preferable. Women who write to Sidelines and similar support organizations say they felt lonely, scared, frustrated, and depressed.

"It's very hard on many levels -- physically it's hard to stay in bed. As far as mentally, I always say that it seems to happen to us 'A' types that are the casserole-bringers of the world," Hurley says. "We don't want to stay in bed; we're used to being very active; we're used to helping others, and we don't want other people to have to help us."

She says that in addition to being lonely and isolating, forced bed rest is hardly the pregnancy most women hope for or imagine.

"You see images of pregnant women doing aerobics or running and you can't even run or walk; it's an extremely hard adjustment to have to make," she says.

And So to Bed ...

In addition to pre-term labor, conditions that might prompt an obstetrician to order bed rest include cervical changes such as premature effacement of the cervix, or "incompetent" cervix, in which the cervix dilates prematurely during the second trimester; vaginal bleeding due to conditions such as placenta previa, in which the placenta develops in the lower end of the uterus and sometimes blocks the internal opening; and high blood pressure (including the pregnancy-related forms preeclampsia and eclampsia).

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