Just as every pregnancy is different, every woman’s experience with bed rest is different. Some women may know early on that because of their medical histories, they will have to go on bed rest at some point in their pregnancies. Others might be surprised to hear their doctors announce, after a routine appointment, that they’ll be on bed rest for a few weeks. No matter what your story, pregnancy bed rest can take a big toll on you, physically and mentally. You can quickly lose strength, stamina and flexibility, which will leave you feeling lethargic and unable to perform daily tasks.
The Challenges of Bed Rest
Being off your feet for a long period of time comes with its share of drawbacks. Prolonged inactivity can lead to back pain, muscle atrophy, skin sores, bone loss and even blood clots in the legs. It may also aggravate many of the normal symptoms of pregnancy, such as heartburn, constipation and swelling due to inactivity. Prolonged inactivity can also lead to anxiety and depression.
On bed rest you give up much more than your normal schedule. You may need to devise new ways to connect with family members, take care of children, address household chores, and manage your job. Bed rest can also affect your relationship with your partner, your children, your finances, your emotional health, and your vision of yourself during this time. You may also find yourself thinking back to your early pregnancy and wondering what you did to end up on bedrest.
Activities on Bed Rest
First, you need to find out exactly what your restrictions are, so you can plan accordingly. You provider may advise you to spend 24 hours a day in bed, perhaps getting up only to use the bathroom. Or he/she may recommend that you stay home and rest in bed, but give you the go-ahead to get up for meals or your provider may just want you to really slow down by cutting back on work and other activities, avoiding heavy lifting and prolonged standing, and heading to your bed to rest for a few hours once a day. Depending on your restrictions, the realities of bed rest can generate boredom and a general lack of control but with some planning, you can make the most of bed rest.
- Make a master list of support personal and their contact information.
- Consider childcare and animal care, line up people to help with carpools or to watch them.
- Schedule meal deliveries and consider using paper plates to minimize mess and clean up.
- Create a bedside station with pen & paper, magazine, snacks, remotes, phone and chargers.
- Find an online community to support you and your experience.
- Stay connected with friends and family with in home visits or phone, email and social media.
- Work from home if possible.
- Prepare for baby by shopping, organizing and planning.
- Find providers who offer in home primp and polish services like hair cut, manicures and pedicures.
- Read, listen and watch your favorite books, movies and TV shows. Read about the future including childcare and discipline.
- Plan for the future- postpartum meals, baby announcements and your first family vacation.
- Find some favorite distractions. Learn a new hobby or craft. Color in a coloring book or journal your experience.
- Set aside some time each day to spend with your child.
- Ask your provider about bed rest fitness.
Bed Rest Fitness
Bed rest has physical costs. Resting can sap your physical strength and endurance. And if you’ve spent more than a few days in bed, getting back up to speed after the baby arrives can be slow and taxing. So move what you can. Your practitioner may guide you to do some low-impact exercise to keep strong enough for delivery, recovery and caring for your newborn. If not, then ask them.
According to Mamas on Bed Rest, the following moves are so gentle you can do them everyday once you have permission from your provider.
- Kegels: Draw the pelvic-floor muscles that surround your vagina up like an elevator climbing up to your belly button, tightening them as if you are stopping the flow of urine; do not squeeze your buttocks. Hold for 10 seconds, breathing normally, then slowly release. Repeat 10-20 times. Benefits Helps you identify, control and strengthen your pelvic-floor muscles; this can help prevent urinary incontinence and speed healing after childbirth.
- Chest and shoulder opener: Lace your fingers behind your head, opening your elbows wide. Sit tall and lean back slightly, lifting your chest as you breathe deeply until you feel your ribcage expand. Exhale as you draw your elbows down toward your knees and relax. Do five times, building up to 10. Benefits Increases lung capacity, improves posture, stretches the chest and shoulders and makes you feel alert and awake.
- Ribcage breathing: Grasp your upper torso, spreading your fingers wide along your ribcage. Inhale deeply through your nose (feeling your ribcage expand under your fingers). Exhale through your mouth as you gently draw your belly in and do a Kegel. Do five times, working up to 10. Benefits Strengthens your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles; improves breathing and circulation, giving you a boost of energy.
- Gentle pelvic tilts: Sitting “Indian style,” with knees bent, inhale through your nose as you lift your chest and lengthen your neck, arching your back. Exhale through your mouth as you round your spine, gently tucking your pelvis under, and draw your abs in as you do a Kegel. Return to the starting position and do five times, building up to 10. Benefits Promotes circulation throughout your entire body and gently tones the deep belly muscles, aiding digestion.
- Upper-body strengthener: Pull your abs in and draw your shoulders back and down as you raise your arms out to the sides at shoulder height and bend your elbows 90 degrees. Inhale, then exhale as you press your arms overhead, squeezing your arm, shoulder and upper back muscles. Keep squeezing as you slowly lower your arms. Repeat 10-15 times. Benefits Increases upper-body strength and stamina (you’ll need these to carry your baby and all her gear!) and improves posture.
- Lower-leg mobility: Stretch your legs out in front of you and pull your abs in. Roll your ankles clockwise 10 times, then switch directions. Next, flex your feet, pointing your toes toward your knees. Repeat 10 times. Benefits Increases lower-leg circulation and helps maintain strength and flexibility.
Keep your expectations realistic after delivery. Be prepared to cut yourself some postpartum slack. Factoring in all your body has been through, you may not have the same strength or capacity that you had before. So give yourself a chance to recover, and plan on building back up to your former fitness level slowly. Walking, yoga and swimming are good activities to get back into the game. With consistent effort on your part and help from your team, you will get there!