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Pregnancy Bed Rest: Frequently Asked Questions

The term bed rest is self-explanatory. But if your doctor has prescribed bed rest for you, you're probably full of questions such as "Why am I on bed rest?" "How can bed rest help me and my baby?" and "How will bed rest impact my life?" Read the answers to these frequently asked questions and get the information you need to know about bed rest.

What is bed rest?

Bed rest means you have to reduce your activity by resting, usually in bed. Your doctor will instruct you about what positions you should rest in (on your side, propped up, or otherwise). Exactly how much bed rest your doctor prescribes depends on your condition. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), there are varying degrees of bed rest. If you're on strict bed rest, you won't able to leave your bed for any reason and will require assistance to care for yourself. In other cases, you may get up and use the bathroom. Some women are asked to simply reduce their activity levels, and only need to rest in bed for short periods. Whatever your doctor prescribes, it's crucial to follow her instructions.

Why do doctors prescribe bed rest?

According to ACOG, doctors prescribe bed rest for pregnancy complications such as placenta previa, pregnancy-induced hypertension, intrauterine growth retardation, or chronic health problems. The limitations placed on your activities by bed rest impact your ability to work, to care for yourself and your family, and to follow your usual routines. But it's very beneficial for developing babies who are at risk from pregnancy complications. According to the Mayo Clinic, the three major benefits of bed rest are:

  • Decreased pressure on baby. Lying in a reclining position decreases the pressure of the baby on the cervix. The reduction in pressure may reduce stretching of the cervix. Cervical pressure can cause contractions, miscarriage, preterm labor, rupture of membranes, or vaginal bleeding.
  • Increased oxygen and nutrients to baby. Bed rest increases blood flow to the placenta, thereby improving oxygenation and nutrition for the fetus who is growing poorly or hindered by problems with the placenta.
  • Improved maternal organ function. Bed rest helps the mother's organs function more efficiently. Improved heart and kidney function can help in the management of high blood pressure (hypertension).

How will bed rest impact my activities?

Bed rest impacts your life because it's a restriction of your mobility. Some of the activities that are impacted by bed rest include:

  • Work
  • Social life
  • Household chores
  • Sexual relations
  • Caring for children
  • Self care

Depending on the level of rest your doctor prescribes, you might need help caring for yourself, your children, and your home while you rest. If you're covered by insurance, and require some medical supervision while you rest at home, you may have coverage for a health-care aide. You may qualify for a home care assistant even if you don't require medical supervision. Check with your insurer for details. You can also enlist the help of friends or family members to help care for you and your home while you're on bed rest. In the event that you require constant medical supervision, you'll be admitted to the hospital for care.

How long will I be on bed rest?

Only your doctor can determine how long you must be on bed rest. Some women are on bed rest for the duration of their pregnancy, others are taken off bed rest if their condition improves. Communicate often with your doctor to keep informed of your medical status so that you know where you stand, and if it's possible for you to discontinue bed rest.

Sources: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Mayo Clinic

Reviewed 11/02 by Elizabeth Stein, CNM

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.