Why Do You Need Bed Rest During Pregnancy? 8 Reasons

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Every year, about 20% of pregnant women are recommended ‘activity restriction’ or bed rest during pregnancy by the doctors (1). The exercise may involve a normal rest or complete inactivity under hospital supervision based on the progress of the pregnancy.

The main aim of bed rest is to prevent any unfortunate event. Read this post to learn more about it, including its benefits and side effects and ways to cope with movement restriction.

What Does ‘Bed Rest’ Mean?

Bed rest refers to limiting your activities to just a few basic ones, for a specific period. Sometimes all that you are allowed to do is move around the house a little to use a shower or toilet. You should avoid lifting heavy objects or doing extremely difficult or tiring household chores.

Sometimes, when complete bed rest is necessary, the doctor may advise hospitalization (2).

Moreover, in some cases, being on bed rest will improve blood flow to the placenta, saves a lot of energy and prevents pregnancy complications.

When Will A Doctor Put You On Bed Rest During Pregnancy?

Multiple pregnancy issues can lead to bed rest. Your doctor will put you on bed rest and also discuss the measures you need to take to stay healthy in the following scenarios (3).

  1. Placenta previa: This is when the placenta is situated lower than its actual position, blocking the cervix and there is risk of vaginal bleeding during pregnancy. Bed rest, in this case, will avoid any additional pressure on the placenta and cervix (4).
  1. Preeclampsia: This condition usually develops after the 20th week of pregnancy, due to elevated blood pressure, protein in the urine, and edema. Severe cases could put both you and your baby at risk and may warrant complete bed rest in the hospital for constant monitoring (5).
  1. Cervical insufficiency: Prior cervical damages, cervical lacerations or congenital abnormalities in the uterus may cause the fetus to slip off the womb. In such a condition, bed rest is highly recommended to avoid any pressure on the cervix in standing position (6).
  1. Pregnancy bleeding: Sometimes, there may be slight bleeding or spotting generally in early pregnancy due to conditions such as placental abruption, cervical rupture or uterine tear. Your doctor may advise bed rest until the spotting stops. Sometimes, bleeding or spotting in second and third trimesters may lead to bed rest throughout the pregnancy (4).
  1. Overactive lifestyle: If you lead a very active lifestyle and do not pay attention to your health and nutrition, you will be ordered complete bed rest. Having a balanced diet and staying relaxed will promote healthy fetal development and minimize the need for bed rest.
  1. Oligohydramnios: It is the presence of low amniotic fluid, which puts you and your baby at risks. Therefore, bed rest at home or hospital is required for continuous monitoring of the mother and the fetus (7).
  1. Multiple pregnancies: Although bed rest is not routinely advised if you are carrying twins, it is essential in the case of multiple pregnancies like triplets or quadruplets, when you are highly prone to complications (8).
  1. Preterm labor: Pregnant women who show signs of early labor or begin to contract before 37 weeks of pregnancy require bed rest. This can help in delaying the labor up to the full term (9).

Even if you are not experiencing any of the above symptoms, your doctor may suggest bed rest if he or she thinks you’ll benefit from it. Read on to know more about it.

Are There Different Types Of Bed Rest?

Yes, not all pregnant women need to rest all the time. Different doctors prescribe different types of bed rest depending on your condition and requirement (10).

  1. Scheduled resting: This is usually suggested for mothers in their third trimester, older mothers or those carrying multiples. You will be asked to rest for some time every day, to limit your work day or to avoid exerting activities such as walking, stair climbing or standing for extended periods.
  1. Modified or partial bed rest: This refers to spending part of the day in bed or lying down or resting. The amount of rest your doctor suggests may vary from a couple of hours to an extended portion of the day. You are prohibited from driving, working, handling household chores, exercising, or lifting weights. You are allowed to work on a desk at home, but for a short period.
  1. Strict or complete bed rest: This is precisely what it says. You should be in bed all day long and may have restrictions to shower and toilet usage. While in some cases you can sit and eat, other cases you can only stay reclined all the time.
  1. Hospital bed rest: It is the strictest form of bed rest that will not let you get up at all during the day. You have to use a bedpan, and it includes special positioning on the hospital bed. Ideally, your head will be positioned lower compared to your body to relieve pressure on the cervical region.

You may require scheduled and modified bed rest only for a few weeks to alleviate pregnancy-related complications such as fluid retention, high blood pressure and more. But strict and hospital bed rest is usually recommended to prevent preterm labor.

How Does Bed Rest Help Pregnancy?

Your doctor will advise bed rest for any of the reasons listed above if you can benefit from it or to make your delivery safe.

  • Bed rest improves blood circulation in the uterus and provides oxygen and nourishment to the fetus (11).
  • Your cervix, placenta, and uterus will be free of additional pressure.
  • It improves blood flow throughout the body and therefore prevents edema.

Questions To Ask When Your Doctor Advises Bed Rest

If your doctor recommends bed rest during pregnancy, try to ask as many questions as you need to clear all your doubts.

  • How long do I need bed rest?
  • Is it okay to take a shower or use the bathroom?
  • Is it alright to use stairs?
  • Is it okay to drive or travel?
  • Is it fine to do household chores and take care of my children?
  • Should I avoid lifting objects?
  • Do I have to remain in the bed all the day? Or can I go to work?
  • What should be my lying position?
  • Is it okay to have sex?
  • Is it okay to perform specific exercises?
  • What are my other limitations?

Regardless of why you need bed rest and how long you need it for, it is important that you stay in the right posture or position when you rest.

What Is The Best Position For Bed Rest During Pregnancy?

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The best position for resting on a bed depends on the stage of pregnancy, medical history and other complications you may be facing. In most cases, you will be advised to sleep sideways towards your left, with your hips or knees bent, and a pillow placed between your knees (12).

Can You Exercise During Bed Rest?

Yes, it is good to exercise while still on bed rest, and most doctors agree on it. You can try small moves that help improve the blood circulation and keep your body from being inactive completely.

Some of the common exercises you can do include:

  1. Stretching: Prop a few pillows against your head and try doing gentle head circles, ankle circles, and shoulder rolls. They warm up the muscles and loosen the joints.
  1. Isometric exercises: They are helpful for blood circulation. Gently tighten and relax muscles of biceps, triceps, back, chest, shoulder, abdomen, legs, and buttocks. Aim for slow breathing through each rep (13).
  1. Ankle circles: They improve blood circulation in the legs and feet. Rotate your ankles clockwise and anti-clockwise, 10 to 15 times each, and repeat (14)

It is better to perform these exercises with the help of a physical therapist. They can also give you better movement and posture tips that could help during labor.

Are There Any Side Effects Of Bed Rest During Pregnancy?

Being off your feet for a long time will undoubtedly have its risks. They may include:

  • Reduced bone mass
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Cardiovascular and musculoskeletal problems
  • Increased risk of depression, stress, and anxiety
  • Pressure on the family as your responsibility needs to be taken care of by someone else
  • Blood clots in veins of legs, a condition called deep vein thrombosis
  • Concerns about finances as most companies will not pay for your extended pregnancy leave

You may or may not experience these downsides at all times. Speak to your doctor if you feel they are hard to manage.

How To Cope With Movement Restrictions During Bed Rest?

Though bed rest may sound consoling, it is challenging for most women to stay put in one place for long periods. Below are some tips to make his phase easy by minimizing the side-effects and staying healthy.

  • Know the rules: Have a discussion with your doctor initially and understand all the restrictions. This will lower your anxiety.
  • Structure your day: Scheduling everyday activities will help fight boredom. Plan a routine, even if it is when to take a shower or a short walk. Make a to-do list of activities such as reading a book, watching a movie or solving puzzles or so.
  • Exercise what your doctor recommends: You may be allowed to do certain low-impact exercises such as walking, moving your legs, resistance bands for the lower body and lightweights for the upper body. They will give you enough strength for delivery and postpartum recovery.
  • Maintain a support system: Stay connected with your family and friends through phone, e-mail or social media. You might also stay in touch with other moms-to-be through online and local communities.
  • Monitor your diet: Have a healthy pregnancy diet with lots of fiber and fluids. Have several small meals than three large ones.
  • Learn new things: Teach yourself a new language, how to knit, crochet, quilt or scrapbook or take a correspondence class or watch videos on YouTube.
  • Start a journal: This would be an excellent time to write down your thoughts or a few lines to your baby about the best pregnancy moments.

Preparing for the rest period by keeping things you need handy can make it less stressful.

Bed Rest Check List

Make a checklist of items that you will need during the day and keep them near the bed. It will prevent chaos and clutter.

  • Enough water and snacks, including fruits and nuts
  • Stationary such as books, pens or pencils
  • Grooming material such as a mirror, brushes, comb, nail cutters
  • Mobile charger, address book or directory
  • Laptop or computer
  • Magazines, books, newspapers or any reading materials
  • TV and AC remote controls
  • Waste bins

Can You Get Disability Insurance For Bed Rest During Pregnancy?

You may get temporary disability insurance (TDI) which will offer some income security by partially replacing your wages (15). For this, talk with your HR representative and your doctor to understand the application procedure.

In some cases, your doctor may advise you to limit even minimal activities and focus on having complete bed rest in pregnancy. It is advisable when you are experiencing any of these various conditions, including bleeding, placenta previa, high blood pressure, and early labor. It is important to understand that bed rest is suggested for the safety of expectant mothers and babies. Hence you should follow your doctor’s instructions to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. Furthermore, avoid any strenuous physical activity shortly after delivery to allow your body to heal and avoid the risk of complications.

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Dr. Richa Hatila Singh

Dr. Richa Hatila is an experienced gynecologist practising in Varanasi. She did her MS in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, DNB, and a Fellowship in Laparoscopic surgeries (FMAS). She is currently associated with Shubham Hospital and Sah Speciality Clinic in Varanasi. 

Rebecca Malachi

Rebecca is a pregnancy writer and editor with a passion for delivering research-based and engaging content in areas of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-pregnancy. She has been into health and wellness writing since 2010. She received her graduate degree in Biotechnology and Genetics from Loyola Academy, Osmania University and obtained a certification in ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy’ from Ludwig... more