Pregnancy: What to do When You’re Banished to Bed

At times, pregnancy complications can confine you to your bed for days, weeks, even months. Around 20 percent of pregnant women are confined to a week or more in bed at some time during their pregnancy. Being ordered to bed often comes as a shock to the woman and those who rely on her, including family members and employers. Often many things, including household moves and big work projects need to be put on hold while you retreat to bed. Your health and the safety of your baby take center stage.

In the first half of pregnancy, complications necessitating bed rest include unexplained bleeding and the threat of an impending miscarriage. In the second half of pregnancy, the most common reason for bed rest is the threat of preterm labor. Other reasons for prescribed bed rest later in pregnancy are high blood pressure, preeclampsia, incompetent cervix, premature rupture of membranes, and chronic heart disease.

Doctors prescribe bed rest for a number of reasons.  Bed rest decreases the pressure of baby on the cervix, thus reducing the likelihood of premature cervical stretching and contractions. Rest increases blood flow to the placenta, and thus improves the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to baby. Rest is likely to reduce a mother’s high blood pressure.

While the first few days of  doctor-mandated R&R might be welcomed eagerly, most women find all that resting to be… tiring. Not to mention tedious, frustrating, and boring. There are so many other things you want or need to be doing! Focusing on the importance of  taking care of yourself will make your confinement easier and maybe even enjoyable. Here are 9 ways that Dr. Sears recommended you make the best of bed rest.

1. Know exactly what you may and may not do. Be sure you understand what your healthcare provider means by bed rest. There’s nothing worse than spending half the morning wondering if you can take a shower. You can pretty much figure that bed rest means refraining from the more “active” activities that go on in bed – no sex, no orgasm. But check to be sure you know whether your doctor recommends total bed rest, which means sponge baths in bed and bedpans, or whether you get the luxury of bathroom privileges and an occasional walk to the kitchen. Ask if you can slowly walk up and down stairs, or if you are confined to one floor. Bear in mind that most doctors over prescribe the degree of bed rest, realizing that most human beings do not easily adapt to such drastic changes in lifestyle and will occasionally cheat. Find out if your doctor thinks mental stress is a problem. Can you deal with office work over the phone? While you won’t want jumping children using your bed as a trampoline, can they stay in the room with you for much of the day?

2. Set up a comfortable nest. If you have to stay in bed you might as well create a bed you like to stay in. Have your bed placed near or facing a window so you have fresh air and a view. Put anything you’ll need within arms’ reach on a table next to your bed. Use a cordless phone or one with a long cord if the phone jack isn’t near your bed. Keep address books, phone books, your journal and all kinds of reading material on an adjacent table. Move the television or the stereo into the bedroom. Buy or rent a small refrigerator for your bedside snacks. Be kind to your recumbent body. Place a foam egg-crate contoured pad on top of your mattress.

3. Think positively. Rather than dwell on what you’re missing, think about what you are enjoying. Even if you find yourself feeling bored and depressed, these feelings will eventually subside, and you will have happy days again. Focus on what you are doing for your baby, and on the benefits to you of resting and relaxing. The good thing about the emotions of pregnancy is that downs are usually followed by ups.

4. Realize your feelings are normal. With so much time to just sit and think, your emotions are likely to run wild. You may worry about the baby’s health and survival, fret about how your husband and kids are coping, be bored with too little to do, feel anxious about things you should be doing, and dislike feeling dependent. You may feel angry and disappointed about the course of your pregnancy. You grow impatient, as the days get longer. You’ll probably feel tempted to cheat. Each day in bed will bring on new emotions to work through, yet continuing to focus on the goal of your pregnancy will overcome these anxieties and keep you in bed as long as you need to stay there.

5. Seek your mate’s help. This may be the first time in your life that your mate waits on you and seems to get very little in return – except, of course, that you are growing his baby. Prolonged bed rest during pregnancy can bring couples together or tear them apart. Abstaining from sex and curtailing the activities that you usually do together doesn’t help a marriage that may already be stressed. Expect stress on your marriage for these reasons and because your husband is now holding down two jobs: taking care of you, and bringing home the bacon. Yet, if you are creative, a lot of bedside romance can take place: candlelight dinners followed by a video movie, breakfast in bed, and daily massages that promote circulation, and feel so good. Being cared for by a sensitive mate can add a new depth to your relationship. And for a spouse turned waiter, masseur, entertainer, and cook, this could be the first time in his life that he has had to put someone else’s needs ahead of his own – good preparation for becoming a father.

6. Keep fit while in bed. With your doctor’s okay, you could do some exercises in bed, such as leg lifts, calf stretches, and upper arm exercises with light weights. Exercising helps promote circulation, as well as keeping your muscles (including your heart) in shape.

7. Pamper yourself. Staying in bed does not mean denying yourself all the pleasures of life. Hire a massage therapist (or ask a friend) to give you a head to toe massage at least once a week. See if your hairdresser will come to your bedside.

8. Bond with your baby. Many women on prolonged bed rest face a dilemma: though this would seem an ideal time to contemplate the miracle of pregnancy and to really bond with the baby, the usual reason for being on prolonged bed rest is the very real possibility of losing the baby. So some women find that even though they have plenty of time to think about and plan for the baby, they have difficulty doing so because of their fear of losing the baby. Remember that the vast majority of women who are confined to bed go on to deliver babies who survive and thrive. And the few who don’t, never regret loving the little person who was briefly part of their lives.

9. Get support. Ask your practitioner to give you the phone numbers of other mothers similarly confined to bed. Sometimes you can talk each other through a particularly dull day. Or contact a support group called Sidelines (714-497-2265), which maintains a national hotline of volunteers who offer support and match you with other bedridden moms-to-be. This group is the brainchild of a California mother who was confined to bed during her high-risk pregnancies and figured out a way to use her free time for the good of other women in her circumstances. Ask these experienced bedresters for practical suggestions on what helped them cope. Mothers who have laid in bed for six straight weeks or more will give you ideas on how to pass the time.

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