Is Bed Rest Just an Old Wives' Tale?

Christie Haskell
19

For pregnant women who have been on bed rest, especially for strict or extended time periods, they know that it can have very, very serious negative repercussions on their family finances, their relationships with their kids and spouse, their physical and mental health ... and all because their doctor tells them that they need it to keep the baby from being born prematurely.

And who would say that making a sandwich for your toddler is more important than your unborn baby's health, right?

The problem is, for all the negatives of bed rest (and there are plenty), there do not appear to be science-based positives, proving that bed rest actually reduces preterm births. So why do doctors keep prescribing it?

A lot of women aren't very educated about pregnancy and would be terrified if they heard they were 2 centimeters dilated at, say, 34 weeks, and would gladly take to bed rest for a month if it meant their baby would stay in. However, early dilation can be totally acceptable and normal.

More serious situations including bleeding and bouts of preterm labor can be terrifying for a mom, and her doctor may go out of their way to make sure mom stays on bed rest in order to keep the pregnancy in tact. However, The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology even says that especially due to the downsides of bed rest, it shouldn't be "routinely" prescribed since there's little to no evidence showing it even works to reduce the rate of preterm birth.

Yet ask any woman who had a scary experience while pregnant and who was prescribed bed rest, and she'll swear up and down that she did it because it wasn't worth the risk not to ... even with little or no evidence or science backing the recommendation. But considering some women have to quit their jobs, move in family members to help care for other children, and even suffer medical problems like blood clots as the result of extended bed rest, it's really worth questioning the practice, especially when around 700,000 women are prescribed bed rest every year.

When your doctor prescribes such extreme bed rest as to say that you can't ride in cars (due to sitting upright), have sex, or even go to the bathroom without assistance (some women will avoid being upright to the point that they crawl to the bathroom), we really, really have to stop and think whether or not the unproven scare tactic of "what if" is worth the very real and proven risks of following the unsupported advice.

When on bed rest for even a week, your muscles can get weaker and you'll be very sore and risk some medical issues. Imagine being told to be that way for months, having to rotate constantly to avoid bedsores but be unable to lay on your back or stomach, relying on other people for everything, and being unable to care for your family, kids, or even leave the house.

Would you go on bed rest, unable to live your normal life, knowing that there's little or no proof that it reduces the chance of preterm labor? If there's no science backing it up, just fear ... is it worth it?

As always, make sure to talk to your doctor or midwife about your specific situation before making any changes to a prescribed bed rest plan.

 

Image via Grahford/Flickr


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