What is bed rest?

Bed rest can mean literally resting in bed or just restricting your activity. Nearly 20 percent of pregnant women are prescribed some form of bed rest each year. If you have been prescribed bed rest, it means that your health care provider is concerned about a condition that may prevent you from carrying your baby to full term. While a period of bed rest can interrupt your routine, it may be helpful in carrying your pregnancy to full term.

What are the most common reasons bed rest is prescribed?

Your doctor may advise bed rest for the following pregnancy complications:

Preeclampsia —a potentially dangerous condition that includes swelling, increased blood pressure, and protein in the urine
Vaginal bleeding —may be due to placenta previa (low-lying placenta) or abruption placenta (premature separation of the placenta)
Premature labor —labor that begins before the baby is considered full term
Incompetent cervix —a weak cervix that may open prematurely
Cervical effacement —thinning of the cervix
Multiple pregnancy —carrying two or more babies
Previous pregnancy complications —can include fetal loss, stillbirth, or premature birth
Poor fetal development
A test or procedure that indicates a medical complication

Do I have to stay in bed all day or can I move around?

This will depend on the reason your doctor has prescribed bed rest for you. Some women must remain in bed or on a comfortable couch most of the time, while others may only need to slightly restrict their activity.

If your doctor has advised you to rest most of the time, the following activity guidelines may apply to you.

Permitted activities:

-Short walk to the bathroom
-Sitting in a chair up to one hour
-Short walks in your home (no longer than ½ hour)
-Standing for short periods of time in your home (no longer than ½ hour)
-Working at a desk for less than one hour, but only if there is no stress and if help is available if needed (either on site or by phone)
-Limited stair climbing
-A brief shower once a day

Activities that are not permitted:

-Activity that lasts more than one hour
-Heavy lifting
-Placing anything in your vagina
-Sexual activity

Your doctor will be able to give you specific information about your medical condition and activity level.

Do I have to lie on my side during bed rest?

Women are advised to lie on their side during bed rest, usually on whichever side is most comfortable. Depending on your situation, you health care provider may tell you to lie on your left side so that your uterus does not put pressure on the vena cava. The vena cava is one of two large veins that that return blood to your heart.

Can I drive myself to office visits?

Depending on the type of bed rest prescribed, your doctor may tell you to have someone else drive you to the office. While you may be permitted to walk from the front entrance to the office, you should avoid long walks and standing for long periods of time.

Will I be able to take care of my other children while on bed rest?

If your doctor has advised strict bed rest for you, will have to make arrangements for child care both during the day and at night.

How can I prevent becoming constipated during my bed rest?

Eating a well-balanced diet with extra fiber may help prevent constipation. If constipation becomes a problem, your health care provider may advise you to take a bulk laxative, such as Metamucil, or a stool softener, such as Colace.

Are there any exercises I can do while lying down?

Check with your physician to see if he or she recommends isometric exercises during bed rest.

Does bed rest really prolong pregnancy?

Some health care professionals disagree about the benefits of bed rest. While there is no solid research to either for or against bed rest, many health care providers believe it is worth trying if it may increase the chances of a successful, full-term pregnancy.

Are there any side effects to being on bed rest?

In addition to feeling tired and isolated, you may experience muscle and joint pain, backache and dizziness. A physical therapist or a massage therapist may be able to help you deal with these conditions. Be sure to check with your health care provider before undergoing any therapy.

Can bed rest affect my postpartum recovery?

This depends on how long you have been on prescribed bed rest. If you have been inactive for a long time, you may experience muscle weakness and a lack of energy after your delivery. Again, a physical therapist or a massage therapist may be able to help you minimize these effects.

Will my job be in jeopardy if I take time off for prescribed bed rest?

Bed rest, as prescribed by your physician, is a medical reason for your absence from work and therefore should not affect your employment status.