If you've had problems during pregnancy, your doctor may have suggested bed rest. It may seem like a relief after the stress you've been under. Bed rest has been a way of treating pregnancy complications for more than a hundred years.
But there's a problem. While bed rest is a common treatment, there's no proof that it helps. It doesn't seem to protect your health or your baby's. In fact, bed rest has risks itself. Doctors still prescribe it, but more because of tradition than good evidence that it works.
Confused? Lots of women are. To help, here’s a rundown of what the research tells us about bed rest for pregnancy complications.
Why Is Bed Rest Prescribed?
Some doctors suggest bed rest for conditions like growth problems in the baby, high blood pressure or preeclampsia, vaginal bleeding from placenta previa or abruption, preterm labor, cervical insufficiency, threatened miscarriage, and other problems. They hope that by taking it easy, you lower the risk of preterm birth or pregnancy complications. Today, almost 1 out of 5 women is on restricted activity or bed rest at some point during her pregnancy.
However, studies of bed rest have not found evidence that bed rest helps with any of these conditions. It doesn't lower the risk of complications or early delivery.
Many doctors know that there's not good evidence that bed rest helps. But they try it anyway because they think it's harmless. Unfortunately, studies have found that bed rest poses real risks. They include:
- Blood clots
- Depression and anxiety
- Family stress
- Financial worries, especially if you have to stop working
- Low birth-weight for your baby
- Slower recovery after birth
- Weakened bones and muscles
The stricter a woman's bed rest, the worse these side effects seem to be, studies show.
At this point, studies suggest that pregnant women -- even with complications -- are better off continuing their normal routine than resting. There's evidence that physical activity during pregnancy lowers the risk of problems like low birth-weight and preeclampsia.
What Should I Do if My Doctor Prescribes Bed Rest?
Feel free to question your doctor's advice. Doctors should be willing to explain their reasoning. It's important to get clear answers.
Things to ask your doctor include:
- Why are you recommending bed rest?
- How do you define bed rest? Lying in bed all day? Occasional breaks?
- Is bed rest really necessary? Are there other options?
- What are the specific benefits my baby and I will get from bed rest?
- Do those benefits outweigh the risks?
- What do the medical studies show?
- What are some potential problems from bed rest? For my baby? For me?
- Is there a maternal-fetal medicine specialist we could talk with?
If you have concerns afterward, get a second opinion or talk to a specialist. Your doctor should give you a clear reason for bed rest.
Tips for Getting Through Bed Rest
If you and your doctor agree that you should give bed rest a try, ask more questions. The term "bed rest" is vague. You need to know exactly what your doctor expects. Ask questions like:
- How long will I need bed rest?
- Do I have to stay in bed all the time? Can I go to work?
- Can I get up to shower or use the bathroom?
- Can I do normal household chores and take care of my other kids?
- Should I avoid lifting anything heavy?
- Should I lie on one side or stay in a certain position?
- Is sexual activity OK? If so, what kinds and how much?
Bed rest can be tough, physically and mentally. It's boring and stressful. You need to focus on making it as bearable as you can. These tips may help:
Schedule your day. Staying on schedule will break up the day and fight boredom. Get dressed in the morning. Keep a to-do list and plan activities for the day, such a reading, watching a movie, or doing word games.
Do the exercises your doctor recommends. You need to keep up your muscle strength. Moving your legs will lower the risk of blood clots.
Have a support system. You need the help of family and friends to get through this. Have visitors. Keep in touch by phone, email, and text.
Let people help. It may be hard to ask for help, but you must. If friends or family members ask how they can help, offer specifics. Have them pick up groceries or take your turn in carpool.
Learn something new. Start learning a new language, take a correspondence class, watch YouTube videos on how to draw or learn how to knit.