Bed rest was no stretch of movie marathons for Lennox McNeary, of Roanoke, Virginia. After going into preterm labor with her son, now 2, McNeary spent ten weeks horizontal -- six at home and four in the hospital. "I felt so helpless," she explains. "I couldn't shop for groceries or cook. My husband was working extra hours to make up for my lost income." And then there were the constant worries about the baby. "We didn't know if he was going to be born at 24 weeks or full-term, or if he would even survive. So my bed rest was anything but restful."
McNeary's experience is hardly unique. Nationwide, 1 in 5 expectant women ends up on some form of bed rest. But even though it hasn't been proven to prevent preterm birth (the main reason that it's prescribed) and although it can be physically and emotionally taxing, OBs continue to determine that when pregnancy gets rough, there are more benefits than drawbacks to required R & R. "It's a safeguard when we're trying to prolong the pregnancy," says Mary Rosser, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and women's health at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. "Getting Mom off her feet improves blood pressure and flow to the placenta and baby, and it decreases the pull of gravity and pressure on the cervix," Dr. Rosser explains. "Each day makes a difference." Indeed, according to the March of Dimes, for every day your baby stays in your womb between weeks 23 and 26, her survival odds increase by 2 to 4 percent. After 26 weeks, 80 percent of babies born survive; after 28 weeks, 96 percent make it.
So if your OB has told you to give it a rest, don't freak out. There are a zillion ways to stay healthy (and sane), however long you're cooped up.
Call in Favors
"Tell people, 'I could use a hand!' " says Darline Turner-Lee, creator of Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond (MamasOnBedRest.com), an online resource. Want someone to walk your dog? Shop for groceries? Make a list and delegate. Often, others want to help but aren't sure how, so don't be shy about asking for what you really need, says Joanie Reisfeld, creator of the Better BedRest online community and outreach program BetterBedRest.org. If you don't have friends and family close by, consider hiring an antepartum doula, someone who specializes in assisting moms on bed rest. Find one through the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association at CAPPA.net.
The sooner you accept that you'll be laying low for a while, the easier it will be. "Two weeks in to my bed rest, I realized I would be in the hospital until my baby came," says Liz Moore, of Beaufort, South Carolina, who spent a month on bed rest. "I just gave in to it because I had no choice," Moore says. "I came to enjoy things like taking a shower and listening to my daughter's heartbeat on the fetal monitor in the mornings."
Bed rest vets like Candace Hurley, of Laguna Beach, California, say that it helps to think of this stint under the covers as your first real Mom Job. "I was supposed to lie on my left side [to increase blood flow to the baby] the whole time," Hurley says. "I kept telling myself that this was one way I could be a good mother even before he was born." After spending 14 weeks on strict bed rest with her older son and ten weeks with her younger, Hurley founded Sidelines National Support Network (Sidelines.org), a group of volunteers whose goal is to help women with high-risk pregnancies.
Ask for Advice
"Having somebody say, 'I've been there, I've done it,' really helps," Hurley says. "I was so scared, and my doctor had a patient who'd also been on long-term bed rest call me," Hurley remembers. "Hearing her baby in the background gave me hope. The only person who could convince me that I could get through this was a mom who had actually gotten through it."
You can get similar support from organizations such as Sidelines and Better BedRest, which pair women with volunteers who have experienced a situation like yours. Those who tap into Better BedRest receive weekly calls offering emotional support, resources, and referrals, as well as info on the program's Emergency Grant Fund, which allots onetime payments of up to $500 to cover rent, utilities, and other basics. Dial 410-740-7662 to see if you qualify.
Find other women to commiserate with through groups such as American Baby's Bed Rest Mamas-to-Be (americanbaby.com/bed-rest), sites such as Keep 'Em Cookin' (KeepEmCookin.com), or by searching for #bedrest or "bed rest" on Facebook or #pregnancybedrest on Twitter. Between posting, linking, sharing, commenting, and tweeting, you won't feel as isolated. Katrina Gallagher, of Altoona, Pennsylvania, a bed rest veteran and mother of four, can attest. "Facebook makes me feel as if I'm not alone." That's something to "like"!
Work it, Mama
If you can do your job remotely (and your ob-gyn says it's okay to work), set up a satellite office in your bed. This will help preserve your maternity or disability leave so you don't use it all or max out your payment benefits before your baby even comes home. Kim Ritter, of Fairfield, Iowa, credits work with keeping her from climbing the walls when she was hospitalized for eight weeks with preeclampsia while pregnant with her son, now 20 months. Best of all: "I didn't miss a single paycheck and was able to take my full maternity leave."
Deck the Nursery
When you're in full-tilt nesting mode, it's beyond frustrating to be confined to bed. But it is possible to pull everything together remotely for your new arrival. Shannon Fable, of Boulder, Colorado, hadn't registered for anything for her daughter, now 2, when she was hustled into the hospital with more than three months to go before her due date. She rallied her Facebook network to help her pick out baby gear. "Each week I'd post something like, 'What couldn't you live without? What didn't you need?' " she says. "I collected ideas and then sent my husband to the store without panicking that he'd get the wrong thing." If only there were an app for crib assembly!
Skype, FaceTime, TokBox, and iChat, and similar services let you attend parent-teacher conferences, join your besties for brunch, keep up with your book-club discussion -- you name it. When Fable's mom couldn't visit her in the hospital, the two Skyped weekly "so she could see me and know I was all right," Fable says. "It helped reassure us both."
Give yourself a gold star for every day you get through. Although it may seem as if you're only napping or catching up on DVR'd American Idol episodes, you're actually working very hard -- you're growing a baby!
To preserve your strength, practice these bed-based moves from Darla Cathcart, a physical therapist in Shreveport, Louisiana. Get your OB's thumbs-up first, and stay within your comfort level.
With your legs extended in front of you, flex, then point your feet, either both together or one at a time, like pushing pedals.
With your legs extended, roll your right leg out so your toes point to 3 o'clock. Roll in. Roll your left leg out so your toes are at 9 o'clock. Roll in. Repeat, alternating legs.
With your legs extended, engage and tighten your right thigh muscle. Release. Change legs. Repeat.
Originally published in the April 2012 issue of American Baby magazine.
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