Bed rest during pregnancy
Your doctor's orders to stay in bed for a few days or weeks might seem like a welcome break. But you will find that bed rest during pregnancy can be as much work as it is a break.
You might not be able to work, do things around the house, or spend time with other family members the way you normally do. If you are on complete bed rest during pregnancy, you might not even be able to shower or eat when sitting up.
Bed rest means you will need to quickly adjust to doing things differently. You will need to find ways to pass the time and ask for help with all of your daily activities.
Why Do I Need Bed Rest?
Bed rest used to be recommended routinely for a number of pregnancy complications, including:
- High blood pressure
- Premature or preterm changes in the cervix
- Problems with the placenta
- Vaginal bleeding
- Early labor
- More than one baby
- History of early birth or miscarriage
- Baby is not growing well
- Baby has medical problems
Now, though, most health care providers have stopped recommending bed rest except in rare circumstances.
Bed rest does not guarantee that problems with your pregnancy will get better. It is just a safeguard.
It is important that you discuss with your provider exactly what bed rest means and what activities you can and cannot do.
What Is the Best Position for Bed Rest?
The best position for bed rest is on your side, with the left side being preferred and the right side as an alternative when the left gets sore. This is to relieve pressure on the large vein that carries blood back to the heart from your feet (called the inferior vena cava) and to prevent putting pressure on your liver. Avoid lying on your back for long periods of time as this puts the most pressure on the inferior vena cava.
How Can I Deal with Discomfort from Bed Rest?
Bed rest can make your body ache. Switching from side to side every so often will help move your muscles and relieve pressure.
Movement and activity will also help keep your blood flowing. Here are some exercises that may help. Talk to your provider before you start any activity:
- Squeezing stress balls
- Pressing your hands and feet against the bed
- Turning your arms and feet in circles
- Tensing or tightening your arm and leg muscles
Try not to use your belly muscles if you are stretching or exercising. Keep in mind that you should talk to your provider before you do any stretching or exercising while on bed rest.
What You Can or Cannot Do While on Bed Rest
The dos and don'ts during bed rest will depend on your situation and your provider. Most often, bed rest will require that you avoid:
- Lifting anything over 20 pounds
- Exercise (specifically, impact exercises that put pressure on your joints)
- Prolonged standing
Ask Your Health Care Provider
If you should limit yourself from doing any of these:
- Light chores
- Bathing or showering
- Having sex
If you will be on bed rest for a long time, you will need to get enough movement each day to keep your blood circulating. Talk to your provider about safe activity you can do while on bed rest.
How to Cope with Bed Rest
Remember that each day of bed rest brings you one day closer to the birth. In the meantime, try to:
- Get organized. Make sure what you need is within reach, like a phone, laptop and other devices, drinks and snacks, the remote control, and extra pillows and blankets.
- Beat boredom. This is a great time to focus on the baby. Shop online for baby goods. Knit a baby sweater. Read baby books or watch baby programs on your computer or TV. Do things to keep your mind busy.
- Accept help. When friends and loved ones ask what they can do, put them to work mowing the lawn, cleaning the bathroom, or keeping you company.
- Seek support. Connect with other moms who know what you are going through. Talk to friends who have been in your shoes. Check for support groups, bulletin boards, and chat rooms online for moms-to-be who are also on bed rest.
- Expect emotional ups and downs. Share your hopes and worries with your partner. Let each other vent if needed. If sex is not allowed, look for other ways to show your love. Take time to kiss, hug, and cuddle.
Newman R, Unal RE. Multiple gestations. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 30.
Simhan HN, Iams JD, Romero R. Preterm birth. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 28.
Reviewed By: Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.