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Bed Rest

If you have certain complications, your doctor may advise you to curtail your activities or to spend part or all of the remainder of your pregnancy in bed. This is called "being on bed rest." A doctor puts a pregnant woman on bed rest if he or she feels that everyday activity puts the health of the mother, baby, or both in jeopardy. It can be very hard to put your life on hold for a few weeks or months, but if you keep in mind the important goal--delivering a healthy baby--it is bearable.

Likely candidates. Bed rest makes sense with certain complications, including placenta previa (the placenta is low and may be covering the cervix), preeclampsia (high blood pressure), and placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterus). It is sometimes prescribed for preterm labor and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), although there is no scientific data to support it as a useful treatment.

Risks. Right now the thought of spending a few days lounging around in bed or on the couch may sound wonderful. However, it does carry some risks, so it should be recommended only when necessary. Without any activity your muscles can stiffen and lose strength. Gaining excess weight is a problem for many women on bed rest. Boredom pushes them to eat more than they need, and their inactivity reduces the number of calories they burn. Women on bed rest may become depressed. The digestive system slows down and stool moves more slowly through the intestines and rectum, making constipation more likely to occur. The most serious complication of limited movement is an increased risk of blood clots.

Ask the right questions. If your doctor advises bed rest, ask exactly what that means. Should you stay in bed all the time, have someone bring you your meals, and get up only to use the bathroom? Should you rest in bed several times a day and perform your ordinary activities between resting periods? Or does your doctor want you to spend your days on the couch and your nights in the bedroom, while still allowing you to go to the kitchen a few times a day for meals and snacks?

Although staying in bed for a couple of months can be challenging, make the most of it by doing things you've never had time for until now. Here are some suggestions:

Log on. If you don't have a computer and an e-mail connection, now is a good time to get them. E-mail will help you keep in touch with friends and feel less isolated. If you can access the Internet, you can join virtual support groups with other bed-resting women.

Work. If you have the kind of job that can be done in bed, see if you can telecommute. Some jobs can be done easily with a phone, a fax machine, and a computer. If your job doesn't lend itself to telecommuting, perhaps you can help out a friend who's running her own business and needs assistance with the paperwork.

Raise money. Your favorite charity may need someone to do phone work.

Launch a project. Now may be the perfect time to put 10 years' worth of photos in albums, read through all your high school journals, create a scrapbook, or type up all of your favorite recipes.

Set a reading goal. Not too many people can say they've read all of the works an author has written. Set a goal of reading all of Shakespeare, Sue Grafton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Ludlum, Jane Austen, J. K. Rowling, or whoever suits your taste.

Set a movie goal. If you have someone to go back and forth to the video rental store, plan on watching sets of movies--everything that Johnny Depp has been in, for example, or all of the Elvis movies.

Call in all your favors. You'll need help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, and childcare, if you already have a child. Ask friends and family to help, and when people say, "Can I do anything for you?" have specific answers in mind--make dinner, go to the library, wash a load of laundry.

Ask for visitors. Having someone stop by to say hello can brighten a day on the couch or in bed. When you invite people over, ask them to bring just themselves and not gift boxes of candy or tins of homemade cookies.

Learn to knit or crochet. In no time you'll have a blanket for baby or a sweater for yourself.

Do whatever exercise you're permitted. It may be fine for you to lift light arm weights or do some simple yoga stretches. Ask your doctor what exercise, if any, is safe; then do what you can to maintain strength and flexibility.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. 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.