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Pregnant woman on bed rest

Rest Well: Pregnancy & Bed Rest

your doctor put you on bed rest—now what?

For every 100 moms-to-be reading this, 18 of you are on bed rest—or will be at some point during your pregnancy. The most common reasons include symptoms of pre-term delivery, treatment of high blood pressure and conditions involving the placenta. Bed rest may be prescribed for home or at the hospital, and it could last for days or even months. Wherever and however long you’re off your feet, here’s how to get through it.

Consider the effects on your mind.

Sure, an extended rest sounds kind of nice. At first. But bed rest can really do a number on a mom, even after just a brief period of time.

If you’re on bed rest, you’re probably already experiencing some anxiety about your baby. And then there’s depression. “For a lot of women, the stress of the pregnancy complication combined with relative isolation and lack of normal activities can affect their mental health,” explains Paula Miltenberger, Ph.D., founder of Women’s Mental Wellness and a licensed psychologist who also regularly provides therapy to pregnant patients on bed rest at Medical City Dallas.

Moms are providers and caretakers by nature, so getting those roles taken away, to some extent, is very hard. “Bed rest can be a huge burden on families. If patients are working, many times, they end up not having a job to go back to when they’ve taken that much time off,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Stevenson-Gargiulo with Baylor Scott & White Park Lane OB/GYN Associates. She adds that bed rest can be an added weight on spouses in terms of taking care of the home and other children.

Miltenberger says the best mental health defense is creating a schedule. “You can make sure you wake up at a normal time and plan out ways to spend your day,” notes Miltenberger. “If you just lie there, that’s when the worry can really take over. And you’d be surprised how many things you can do from bed.”

While your bed rest schedule may not be filled with your typical activities, you can use the time for things that you’ve always wished you could do: learn a new language, sort old photographs, take an online class. Miltenberger also recommends that women on bed rest incorporate mindfulness into their day. “There are apps like Headspace and Calm that can help you meditate and relax.”

Normalcy is also helpful. There are mobile beauty services, and you may be able to complete some work from bed if your doctor approves. TV and movies are also a good way to pass the time—but if you lie in bed all day, every day, hitting “yes” each time Netflix asks if you’re still watching, you’ll probably end up feeling not so great. “The whole idea of a schedule is giving yourself structure, a feeling of productivity and a sense of control—in a situation that is, honestly, largely out of your control,” says Miltenberger.

Many therapy practices offer tele-appointments; that’s a great way to talk about your concerns and get advice on how to cope in your particular situation. And if you’re worried about all the things that aren’t getting done while you’re laid up, you have options. Relatives and friends are, of course, prime sources of support; there are also doulas who can help and assistant services (some specific to bed rest) that can handle everything from laundry to nursery decorating.

Consider the effects on your body.

Bed rest has physical ramifications as well. Research shows that muscle deterioration begins within six hours of starting bed rest, according to Stevenson-Gargiulo. With prolonged bed rest, women can have massive muscle loss and experience difficulty walking after it’s over. When patients are in the hospital, a physical therapist will often come by and help them with appropriate bed-based exercises.

For women on bed rest at home, Stevenson-Gargiulo says muscle loss is typically not as much of an issue. That form of bed rest isn’t as strictly regulated, and women get up and move around more than hospitalized patients. If you’re at home and truly not getting out of bed, however, you may consider a physical therapy consultation. Stevenson-Gargiulo says your doctor may also recommend blood thinners or compression devices that help prevent blood clots.

Know the facts.

“We don’t know exactly what causes pre-term labor. We don’t have any great medications to stop it,” says Stevenson-Gargiulo. “The reality is that even with bed rest, so much of what is going to happen is just going to happen.” The point? Try to be calm, talk to your doctor and seek support when you need it.

For suggestions from local moms who have been on bed rest, check out How To: Surviving Bed Rest.

Image courtesy of iStock.