Your Bed Rest Survival Guide

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As many as 1 in 5 expectant women in the United States will be placed on bed rest at some point during her pregnancy. Here’s how to get through it.

The thought of lounging around in your pajamas all day while someone caters to your every beck and call might sound appealing initially, but for expectant moms who have been placed on mandatory bed rest, the downtime is anything but a treat. Read on to find out what you need to know about bed rest and what you should do (and how you’ll cope!) if it becomes part of your prenatal journey.

Understanding Bed Rest

“Bed rest” can mean a variety of things. For some moms, it’s an activity restriction order, while for others it’s an absolutely-no-getting-out-of-bed-for-any-reason decree. (Of course, everyone assigned home bed rest is entitled to a trip to the loo every now and then, so don’t assume you’ll need to put your partner on bedpan duty just yet.) If your doctor prescribes bed rest during your pregnancy, it is important to ask plenty of questions so you know exactly what she advises: Can I shower every day? Join my family for dinner in the evenings? Handle light household chores like folding laundry? What about sexual activity? (It will probably get brought up at some point!)

Most moms ride out their bed rest in the comfort of their own homes, but in severe cases an extended hospital stay might be in order. (Bedpan- and sponge bath-required rests would fall into this category.) A doctor may recommend that a mom-to-be stay off her feet anywhere from a few days to a few months; again, each case is different, so quizzing your health care provider on the specifics is necessary to know what’s expected of you during this time.

According to Brad Imler, PhD, former president of the American Pregnancy Association, “Bed rest can be recommended for pregnant women for an array of reasons, but some of the more common include vaginal bleeding, high blood pressure and cervical challenges such as effacement. Other reasons include a history of premature birth or early [pregnancy] loss, gestational diabetes and placental complications.” Bed rest is recommended as a way to hopefully prolong a threatened or problematic pregnancy by decreasing the effects of the downward pull of gravity, as well as allowing for a healthy blood flow to the placenta (and in turn the fetus) and reducing possible stress or labor-inducing activities or incidents.

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Bed rest isn’t a guaranteed remedy for pregnancy complications, but it’s typically recommended as a safeguard and can be helpful in preventing preterm labor and other problems. “Pregnancy bed rest is an intervention that often provides the body with the opportunity to function at its best. It is a common practice and although there are no guarantees, observations affirm this practice as a healthy means for empowering the body to rest and function at the optimal capacity under the presented challenges,” says Imler.

If your OB or midwife puts you on bed rest, it’s advisable to adhere to her wishes. Even though it’s tough to be out of the loop—particularly if you already have children at home—it might be a necessary step in delivering a healthy baby.

Bed rest might be suggested if you fall into any of the following categories:

  • High-risk pregnancy
  • Prior problems carrying pregnancies to term
  • Preterm birth
  • High blood pressure
  • Preeclampsia
  • Vaginal bleeding from placenta previa or abruption
  • Incompetent cervix
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • Preterm contractions or threatened labor
  • Indicators of poor fetal growth or development

While some evidence supports that bed rest helps when certain complications are present, there’s still debate on whether or not it’s the best choice for the expectant set. A 2010 study published in Biological Research for Nursing found that bed rest might actually do more harm than good, resulting in such issues as muscle soreness or atrophy, maternal weight loss and lower fetal birth weight, sleep cycle disruption, and depression. The Mayo Clinic also specifies blood clots (venous thromboembolism), stress and cardiovascular deconditioning as posed risks. However, it’s still prescribed by many doctors in the hopes that the benefits outweigh the risks. If you’re concerned about these negative side effects, discuss them with your doctor to see what you can do to help ward them off.

Once you know some amount of bed rest is imminent, you may wrestle with how to transition to life in lounge mode, especially for long periods of time. Whether you’re gearing up for strict bed rest or a modified version, here are some things to consider and prepare for to help make the changeover more doable.

Discuss Approved Positions

Sleeping on your side (particularly your left) is recommended during pregnancy (specifically in the second and third trimester) to allow for optimal blood flow to the placenta, but you may want to speak to your care provider about alternate stances you can try when you need to switch things up throughout the day.

Anticipate all Emotions

Bed rest can leave you feeling moody, guilty, anxious or depressed, and complaints of confinement and isolation are almost a given. Talk to your partner and friends (and your doctor, if necessary) about your feelings to help keep the situation in perspective and ease melancholy moments. Online chat groups and message boards can also connect you with women in similar situations, providing a receptive outlet for your frustrations and fears.

Make a Plan for Work

A horizontal hiatus might be more challenging for a working mom-to-be, since additional out-of-the-office time can throw a wrench in carefully laid maternity leave plans. If it’s possible to handle your duties online or by phone, consider asking your employer if you can continue doing your job from home. “Most employers recognize the value … 75 to 80 percent of a current employee is usually more productive than funneling out responsibilities or trying to hire and train someone to fill [an employee’s] roles for a short season,” Imler points out.

If working remotely isn’t an option, discuss your leave options with your company’s HR representative. You might be eligible for short-term disability, and using a combination of sick and vacation days could be another option. Although it doesn’t have the benefit of income, the Family and Medical Leave Act may allow you time off as well.

If you have financial concerns, Imler suggests taking up temporary employment from home. “Temporary agencies would probably be the best place to start looking for work,” he advises. “It would be easy for someone on bed rest to use the phone for sales calls and making or confirming appointments.”

Build a Schedule

Although pregnancy is exhausting, sleeping all day isn’t advisable—even when you’re confined to the bed. Try to stick to a schedule. Wake up at the same time every morning, take a shower and change clothes (if you’re able), make your bed, eat breakfast. Perhaps you could spend the morning hours taking care of business, such as paying bills, catching up on any necessary work, and checking your email. After lunch, you might pass time watching movies, reading novels or scrolling social media.

An afternoon siesta is always a good idea, but it’s important to not allow your daytime slumber to interfere with your nocturnal Zs. Sleeping too much or too late in the day can interrupt your circadian rhythm, so plan your catnaps accordingly.

Be sure to also interact with people during the day; ask friends to stop by to dine with you for lunch or dinner, and call someone to chat when you’re feeling bored. You can also ask your girlfriends to come by to watch a movie or play a game. Spending time with people who make you happy is essential to preserving your sanity when you’re glued to the mattress.

Hire Needed Help

If you already have children at home, bed rest is bound to present a few additional challenges, namely, how to take care of your family when you’re restricted to your room. Depending on your circumstances, you might need to ask a friend or family member to stay with you for a bit, or hire a nanny or babysitter to cover the duties you can’t. Discuss your options with your partner, and don’t assume that not being in charge equals not being around—invite your big kids to snuggle with you for books, movies and games as much as possible.

Incorporate Exercises

Your stagnant state might be improved with a little in-bed exercise. Ask your doctor if it’s OK to perform muscle stretches, and if so, spend a little time every day extending your muscles from head to toe. Roll your neck, reach your arms, point and flex … it might not be a trip to the gym, but at least it’s physical activity!

Gather Your Supplies

How does one get along while laid up? If you can’t do the hunting and gathering yourself, make a list for your partner of the things you’ll need each day. Some will be regulars—smartphone, charger, computer, TV remote—while others might vary from day to day as you finish books, projects and activities. Plan for more than you’ll probably have time to do, and don’t forget might-need items such as headphones.

Get Organized

Once you’ve compiled your goods, get them in order. Your night table will likely become a supply zone for keeping necessary items within easy reach. Another consideration is a mini-fridge: If you have one (or can afford one), stashing snacks, premade meals and drinks in your bedroom might be a handy idea, particularly if you’ll be home alone most of the day. Try to keep things nice and tidy around your area—a clutter-free zone will help keep things calm.

Prioritize Comfort

You’ll probably want a few more pillows than what you require for bedtime to provide for ample back- and foot-propping while you’re bedbound. Also consider moving a wastebasket within reach, and make sure you have a coaster on your bedside table, along with some antibacterial wipes and plenty of napkins for any food- or drink-related messes. If you’re a can’t-stand-stacks kind of woman, a pair of bookends should keep your reading materials neatly nearby.

Focus on Baby

There is one good thing about being required to take a break while expecting: It gives you a chance to get ready for the babe who’s about to bounce into your life. Here are a few tasks you can work on while bound to bed:

  • Build your baby registry. (Bonus: You’ll have more time to research and figure out which items will best suit your needs.)
  • Create a labor playlist.
  • Carefully consider and compose your birth plan.
  • Take steps to prepare or update your will to include your soon-to-arrive family member.
  • Choose and order birth announcements. (Most sites will allow you to get everything ready in advance then simply send the stats and pictures once baby arrives.) If you can get them ahead of time, go ahead and address and stamp the envelopes.
  • Write thank you notes for shower gifts and help you’ve received during your pregnancy.
  • Research child care options if you’ll be returning to work after baby arrives.
  • Create a postbaby budget that incorporates your new expenses, such as diapers and baby food.

Beat Boredom

Even if you’re maintaining your job and crossing off your to-dos diligently, you’re going to have some downtime. Take a break, and have some fun!

  • Catch up with friends. Been meaning to call your college roommate for months? Your schedule just opened up.
  • Read, watch and scroll. Books, movies, TV shows and blogs are perhaps the most obvious ways to stay entertained.
  • Enjoy playtime. One-woman games like solitaire might suddenly regain their appeal.
  • Solve a puzzle. Or twelve. Sudoku, crossword, word search, logic problems, etc.
  • Get crafty. Making things for your baby to enjoy will give passing time a purpose. Hand-sewn stuffed friends, painted artwork for the nursery or a crocheted keepsake blanket or bib are all special items you’ll be glad to have.
  • Elevate your snail mail. Instead of simply penning a thank you note, design your own stationery. Pretty paper, fun tape and a pair of scissors make card-writing more exciting.
  • Start a journal or scrapbook. Document your pregnancy journey or get pages picture-ready for baby’s arrival.
  • Color, draw or doodle. Create your own designs or order coloring books for grownups online. It can be super therapeutic and is not just for kids.
  • Take up a hobby. Always wanted to learn to knit? Or master Spanish? Now’s the time!

Whatever your choice of literature, read out loud to your baby. The soothing, melodic tone of your voice is comforting to your in-the-womb bedmate, no matter what you’re saying.

Lauren Lisle

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