Bed Rest Q&A

Does prolonged bed rest have any risks?

A. Yes, and they're not insignificant, especially if you're put on strict bed rest. Lying motionless for even a few weeks puts pregnant women at risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This is a blood clot in the leg, caused by sluggish circulation. It's potentially fatal if it travels to the lungs. Half of all cases of DVT have no noticeable symptoms, but if you develop pain or swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet; redness and warmth over certain areas of your legs; chest pain; shortness of breath; or dizziness; or if you cough up blood, you should contact your doctor immediately. Another, more common risk: "Bed rest also causes muscular atrophy and cardiovascular deconditioning -- which is a fancy way of saying you'll lose muscle strength and get out of shape quickly," says Judith Maloni, PhD, RN, professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, who has done several studies on the physical and psychological effects of bed rest.

There are ways to prevent some of these side effects (which can also make it tough to care for your newborn later). If you're prescribed bed rest, ask your doctor whether you can have a physical therapist who specializes in pregnant women visit you at home or in the hospital.

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