Best Tips for Bed Rest

By Published On: March 10th, 2023

As many as 1 in 5 pregnant people in the United States will be placed on bed rest at some point during 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 birthing parents who have been placed on mandatory bed rest, the downtime is anything but a treat. 

There are several reasons you may be put on bed rest during pregnancy, but despite what you’ve seen in movies or on television, being on bed rest doesn’t necessarily mean you are confined to your physical bed for months on end with no option of getting up. If bed rest becomes part of your prenatal journey, we’ll give you the information and the tools to help you get through. 

Understanding Bed Rest

Bed rest during pregnancy isn’t something health care providers suggest lightly. If your OB has placed you on bed rest, that means it’s safer for you to stay sedentary rather than put yourself or your unborn baby at risk. There are three different types of bed rest that become more restrictive as they progress. 

  • Activity restriction is when you are able to go about daily life, just in a more conscious way. You may have lifting restrictions, limits to how long you should be standing or walking without a rest period, or guidelines on climbing or walking on a steep incline. 
  • Modified bed rest is the next progression, requiring an expecting parent to be laying down or resting more throughout the day than they are upright. You can still do light activities like taking walks, grocery shopping, or playing with the kids, but the goal is to be resting as much as reasonably possible. 
  • Strict or complete bed rest is the more extreme example that most of us associate with “bed rest.” At this stage, a pregnant person will be directed to stay in bed at all times except for trips to the bathroom or bathing (however, in some high-risk cases, a pregnant person who is hospitalized and on bed rest will have to use a bedpan and get sponge baths). 

Most parents-to-be can ride out their bed rest in the comfort of their own homes, but in some situations, an extended hospital stay might be in order. A doctor may recommend a birthing parent stay off their feet anywhere from a few days to a few months—each case is different.

If your doctor prescribes bed rest during your pregnancy, it is important to ask plenty of questions so you know exactly what is expected of you: Can I shower every day? Can I join my family for dinner in the evenings? Will I be able to handle light household chores like folding laundry? What about sexual activity? 

Reasons for Bed Rest in Pregnancy

According to Tamika C. Auguste, MD, FACOG, an OB-GYN practicing in Washington, D.C., historically, bed rest has often been recommended to help prevent preterm labor. However, she says, “there is little to no evidence that shows bed rest works to prevent preterm delivery, so the reasons to put a patient on bed rest are few.” That said, if a patient experiences premature preterm rupture of membranes, their OB may put them on modified or strict bed rest if they are at risk of umbilical cord prolapse, Dr. Auguste explains. 

Additionally, sexual activity restrictions may be recommended if you experience “an increase in the frequency or intensity of contractions after sex,” according to the Mayo Clinic. You may also need to restrict activity or be placed on bed rest if you have a low-lying placenta or placenta previa.

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. Dr. Auguste recommends patients on bed rest “wear compression stockings or take anti-coagulant medicine to prevent a blood clot”. (Of course, always talk to your doctor before starting any medication during pregnancy.) She also suggests frequently massaging and stretching the legs to help with discomfort and blood clot prevention. 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.

If your OB or midwife puts you on bed rest, it’s advisable to adhere to their recommendations. 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.

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. 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.

Anticipate all Emotions

Bed rest has the potential to leave you feeling moody, guilty, anxious, or depressed, and complaints of confinement and isolation are almost a given. If you’re experiencing these feelings, talk to your partner and friends (and your health care provider, if necessary) to help keep the situation in perspective and ease melancholy moments. Online chat groups and message boards can also connect you with people 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 parent-to-be since additional time off can throw a wrench in carefully laid maternity leave plans. If you work in an office or on-site and it’s possible to handle your duties remotely, consider asking your employer if you can continue doing your job from home.

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.

Build a Schedule

Although pregnancy is exhausting, sleeping all day isn’t advisable—even when you’re confined to the bed, so 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, and 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 by organizing at-home tasks like meal planning for the week or updating your monthly budget. You may also enjoy reading through a book series, watching movies, or planning future family vacations.

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 interact with people during the day; ask friends to stop by for lunch or dinner, and call someone to chat when you’re feeling disconnected. You can also ask your companions 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’ve got nowhere else to go.

Hire Necessary 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 sequestered 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. If your doctor gives you the OK to perform muscle stretches, 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? 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 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—phone, charger, tablet, laptop, 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 you’re able to get 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.

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 and 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 childcare options if you’ll be returning to work after baby arrives.
  • Create a post-baby budget that incorporates your new expenses, such as diapers, formula, 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 (try to) enjoy parts along the way.

  • Catch up with friends. Been meaning to call your college roommate for months? Your schedule just opened up.
  • Read, watch, and scroll. Books, movies, Netflix, websites, and social media sites like TikTok are perhaps the most obvious ways to stay entertained.
  • Enjoy playtime. Solo games like Candy Crush might suddenly regain their appeal.
  • Solve a puzzle. Or twelve. Sudoku, Wordle, crosswords, word searches, logic problems, etc. can help keep you sharp and pass the time. 
  • 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 it 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.

Bed rest is anything but a vacation from life, but with the right tools you can make the most of the situation. Do what you can to find the silver linings, and if you’re feeling your mood slip, don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends, family, or a professional.