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The Truth About Bed Rest and Pregnancy

Pregnant woman in bedHave you or a loved one ever been prescribed “bed rest?” While pregnancy is a beautiful and natural process of creating a new life in a growing family, for many women pregnancy is a time of high anxiety, and health conditions become the predominant focus during their 40 weeks of gestation. A common prescription given to women during this trying time is bed rest. But is bed rest effective?

Bed rest was initially recommended in the early 1900’s as doctors assumed more and more of the responsibility for all medical and physical conditions, including pregnancy. Early bed rest recommendations were extreme and severe. In many cases, women would be required to lie perfectly still for hours at a time, even in the dark and with earplugs, but over the years the term “bed rest” is much more fluid, but strict bed rest means exactly what it sounds like.

The most common condition bed rest is prescribed for is preterm labor to prevent premature births. Other conditions also include low fetal weight and preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes among others. At first glance keeping activities to a minimum seems like a reasonable way to prevent labor, but surprisingly, studies show absolutely no benefit in preventing any of these conditions. In fact, lying in bed all day has a fair amount of negative effects.

Physically, long periods of inactivity (like bed rest) cause muscle atrophy, general deconditioning, bone loss, pain and discomfort (especially in the lower back and hips), maternal weight loss, or slower to gain pregnancy weight (both of which can decrease birth weight), increased risk of blood clots, tissue oxygenation delays, and prolonged postpartum recovery.

Psychological and social problems can include depression, anxiety, stress, time elongation (minutes seem like hours), boredom, sense of being a prisoner, financial stress, familial stress, feelings of being out of control, increased anxiety for wellbeing of the baby, separation from their family, and increasing the burden on the spouse.

What about the opposite of bed rest? “Regular leisure physical activity appears to protect against prematurity, low birthweight, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.” Also, “Women who engaged in light physical activity (walking) had a 24% reduced risk of preterm delivery. Women who engaged in moderate to heavy activity (sports several times per week) had a 66% reduced risk. The greater the intensity of the activity, the greater the reduced risk of preterm birth.”1

So why is bed rest still prescribed? The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states: “Unnecessary interventions such as bed rest may make the patient (and sometimes the health care provider) feel that all attempts are being made to ‘save’ the pregnancy. This reflects the illogic of continued use of an ineffective and harmful practice.”2

The takeaway from this boils down to a single principle (and a common chiropractic axiom): Motion is Life. Whether in joints and muscles, in neurology, or in spirituality and mental health, the principle is true. There is a small subset of conditions that require a person to stop moving temporarily. But the overwhelming result when research is done is that motion beats inactivity. Life requires resistance and motion to flourish. If your provider insists that bed rest is right for you, please ask her or him about research on bed rest and the condition for which she or he is recommending it. Sometimes it takes time for people to change how they feel, especially when their intentions are good. If you have any questions, please contact us today!


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