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Does Bed Rest During Pregnancy Really Help?

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.

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