Take it easy

10 ways to make the best of bed rest


"When you first hear that you need bed rest, you panic. How will you tell your boss? What will you do with your kids? You lose your sense of yourself. You feel guilty. Then there's the isolation. ... You feel like your whole world is spinning out of control."
—Amy Tracy, who was on bed rest during her two pregnancies

More than 700,000 American women each year spend part of their pregnancy on bed rest, for reasons such as unexplained bleeding, preterm labor, hypertension or an "incompetent" cervix. But inactivity, even if required for health reasons, can lead to weakness, blood pressure changes, aching muscles and weight loss. Bed rest isn't the relaxing experience some women expect, either; many suffer from depression, sleep disturbances and anxiety about the baby, work, home and family. Happily, though, there are ways to alleviate the problems and stresses if you are sent to bed.

1. Define bed rest. The term varies by doctor. Ask detailed questions: Must you use a bedpan? How long can you be on your feet? Can you walk? Drive? What housework is OK? Negotiate for some time out of bed each day. As long as it doesn't cause excessive contractions, moving around, even in bed, is the best thing you can do for your muscles —

and your sanity, says Judith Maloni, Ph.D., R.N., a leading researcher on pregnancy bed rest in Cleveland.

2. Make a nest. Keep snacks, drinks, a phone, videos, books and your computer within reach. Music, flowers, even an open window will brighten your days.

3. Separate night and day. Get out of your pajamas. Change locations if you can.

4. Ask for help. Enlist family and friends for household chores, child care and errands. Get help from your church or other organizations you belong to. Look into in-home care.

5. Keep busy but go easy. Consider free-lancing or telecommuting. Keep long-neglected projects (photo albums, mending) handy. Try a new hobby. Make phone calls for a volunteer organization. But don't feel guilty if you spend a day — or a week — watching TV.

6. Exercise. You cannot totally prevent weakness, but bed exercise can ameliorate it, help prevent blood clots and keep you comfortable, says Sterling McColgin, M.D., a maternal-fetal specialist in Colorado Springs, Colo. Massage, stretches and isometric exercises (simply tensing and releasing a muscle) help ease muscle and joint fatigue. You may even be able to lift light weights. Check with your doctor or a physical therapist, or order the American Physical Therapy Association's booklet on pregnancy bed rest (800-999-2782) .

7. Get metaphysical. Explore and soothe your spirit by meditating, praying or writing in a journal. These practices also may help prepare you for labor.

8. Reach out. Encourage friends to visit. Join a support group or find a bed-rest buddy. Go online for chat rooms and e-zines for women on bed rest. Start with www.son.wisc.edu/~son/bedrest/faq/faq.html.

9. Look your best. Put on your normal makeup, fix your hair, shave your legs. You'll feel better about life.

10. Stay positive. Surviving bed rest is one of the hardest things you'll ever do. Says Amy Tracy, "What helps is concentrating on the end goal: a healthy baby."