Do I really need to have bed-rest?

Doctors prescribe some degree of bed-rest (sometimes an hour a day to complete bed-rest) when complications in pregnancy take place, usually involving preterm labour contractions.

Bed-rest reduces normal daily activity and is believed to keep the uterus from contracting. It also supposed to relieve pressure on the cervix. Some common reasons bed-rest is prescribed: multiple gestation, placenta previa, preterm labour, cervical incompetence, and intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR).

However, there is ABSOLUTELY no medical evidence to support bed-rest as a treatment modality! Indeed, on the contrary, prolonged stay in bed can have two possible dangers. It may put a pregnancy mother at risk of clots in the leg vessels (deep venous thrombosis or DVT). Potentially, if such clots form in the legs, they can travel to the lungs via the veins and cause a serious condition called Pulmonary Embolism (PE). Of course, it is a rare event, but nevertheless, if a treatment has no benefit and poses risk, it should be carefully reconsidered.

Secondly, regular exercise is vital in maintaining bone and muscle mass and prolonged bed rest will have a detrimental effect on these aspects. Studies have shown that complete bed rest for one day can reduce the strength of the anti-gravity muscles in your body to an extent that recovery of the same strength can take up to 7 days! Thus, if complete bed rest is prescribed for 2-3 days and the pregnant woman then goes back to normal work, she is likely to experience weakness and backache of a greater degree.

So what is the practical way out?

Perhaps what could be done in certain selected cases would be ‘relative rest’. Also, whilst rest is undertaken the calf muscle exercises should be undertaken so as to continue with the venous circulation from the lower limbs. Pelvic floor exercises also could be performed at this time, which would aid strengthening of these muscles for labour, delivery and the postnatal period.

What can I expect from being on extended bed-rest?

Muscle pain and weakness, fatigue, backache, joint pain, dizziness, and insomnia are all side effects of bed-rest that can effect your body. Physical activity is helpful to maintain some muscle strength and bone density. Treatments may help improve circulation, body positioning, joint flexibility, and muscle strength. Therapists may also offer instructions on how to position yourself in bed, as well as how to use pillows, supports, and other devices for comfort. They may also help design a safe and individualized exercise plan. Ask your doctor for a referral as soon as you feel any of the symptoms listed above.