Bed rest and pregnancy

You might of heard of the term 'bed rest', but what does it mean and what impact could it have on your pregnancy? We try our best to answer any questions you may have.

What is bed rest?

Bed rest for mothers during pregnancy is actually more common than you would think and, in most cases, should not be a reason for panic. Instead it should be seen as a precautionary measure designed to reduce your levels of activity for the benefit of your baby.

Your GP will usually advise you as to the extent of the restrictions that need to be observed during your period of bed rest. This will include both what you can and can't do. Typically bed rest is taken at home, but more serious cases may require hospitalisation.

Why is bed rest prescribed?

You could be prescribed bed rest if you have suffered difficulties during pregnancy in the past such as a miscarriage, still birth or had a baby born prematurely. Bed rest can also be prescribed for pregnancy complications such as hypertension, if a scan reveals unsatisfactory growth in your baby and other underlying health issues. Expecting multiple births is also sometimes a reason for prescribing bed rest.

What are the benefits?

During pregnancy, even the simplest of activities can aggravate conditions that affect the health of you and your baby. Stress can also be a factor in aggravating these conditions as well. Being prescribed bed rest both restricts your movements (cutting down your activity levels) and also is beneficial when it comes to reducing your stress levels.

The immediate benefit of lying in a reclined position is that it will reduce the pressure of the baby on your cervix. This is important as cervical pressure can be cause of some of the conditions mentioned above. Bed rest also increases the blood flow to the placenta, which in turn will provide your baby with improved levels of both oxygen and nutrients which are important for your baby to achieve a healthy growth rate. It can be beneficial for mum's health too, helping vital organs such as your heart and kidneys to function better which can help reduced conditions like hypertension.

How will bed rest affect my life?

The impact that bed rest will have on your life varies from case to case and very much depends on the level of restrictions placed on you by your GP. Obviously, bed rest will impact on all aspects of your life: from your work and social life, to doing house chores or caring for any children you already have. It is always best to discuss the issue with your GP as early as possible and get a clear understanding from them as to what you can and can't do during your period of bed rest.

How long does bed rest last?

How long your bed rest lasts will largely depend on the reason it was prescribed in the first place. It can be prescribed early on in pregnancy and then ended once a condition has improved or it can be necessary for the entire length of your pregnancy. Likewise you may find yourself only confined to your bed for a few hours each a day, while more serious conditions may require spending up to 24 hours a day in bed. Again your GP will advise you as to the precise restrictions associated with your bed rest.

What is the best way to cope with bed rest?

To those of us who dread the sound of the alarm clock going off each morning, the idea of spending an extended period confined to our beds might sound appealing. However, anyone who has ever undergone a period of bed rest will tell you that it is definitely no holiday.

Below are a few survival tips from those who have been through extended periods of bed rest which you may find useful:

  • Change out of your night time clothes when you wake-up.
  • Regular exercise for your legs is important in order to keep the blood circulating and help prevent clots from forming. Simple stretching or yoga techniques are good for this.
  • Unfortunately, housework won't just go away. If you can afford it, think about getting a cleaner in. If not try asking friends, relatives or family members to help out.
  • Make sure you have plenty of visitors.
  • Use a home delivery service for your supermarket shopping. Order lots of healthy stuff like plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit - but it is okay to order yourself an occasional special treat!
  • Stay connected - get a telephone line put in your room and a laptop is perfect for surfing the web while confined to your bed.
  • If you are worried about something it is always best to speak to someone about it. Visit the AskBaby forums for support from other mums to be who will understand.
  • Take up a new activity - something that you have always wanted to do - like learning to draw or writing that novel.
  • Remember all those things that you were always 'too busy to do'? Well now is the perfect opportunity to catch up. Read that book you've always been meaning to read or write that letter to that old school friend you've always wanted to get back in contact with.
  • Start a pregnancy journal or take a home course in a subject that interests you.
  • There's always loads of baby related things that need doing: coming up with names, writing birth plans, buying baby gear, reading all those baby books you bought . Now is the perfect time to do it!
  • What can dads do?

    Let's not forget bed rest can be a stressful time for dads as well, especially as they often have to take on extra responsibilities on top of work commitments. But what is the best way for them to help?

    A lot of women worry about the appearance of their house and dad helping out with the household chores is a good way of alleviating any stress this may cause. It's also important for dads to provide emotional support for mum. Be a barometer to your partner's moods. If she's down, try to think of something that will cheer her up. Maybe give her a massage or put her favourite film on the DVD player and lie down together in bed to watch it.

    As well emotional support, it is important to provide plenty of encouragement for your partner during what will be a difficult time. Encourage mum to stay active and change her routines regularly. Exercise together by performing a few simple yoga stretches. Food can also be a great healer, especially ones that contain serotonin like bananas, chicken or rice. Don't worry about having to be James Martin in the kitchen either as these kinds of food are quite simple to prepare!

    What happens after?

    Following any period of extended bed rest, it will take time to get your strength back - especially with a new baby on your hands! You may find walking an uncomfortable experience at first due to the hardened skin on your heels becoming softer.

    Exercise will always help speed up your recovery and you might even consider undergoing physiotherapy following the birth of your child. Again, online support groups are a good source of information regarding your post-bed rest recovery.

    It is true that bed rest can be an extremely challenging time for a mother, but always try to keep at the back of your mind the thought that it offers you the best possible chance of giving birth to a healthy, full-term baby!

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    Just got off of bed rest. Been bedridden for three weeks so can't wait to go out a big long walk (or short). Only about ten weeks to go, Nic xx
    by KNEE 14th May 2010, 5:30pm