The Trouble with Bed Rest

The Trouble With Bed RestA pregnant mama I know was recently put on bed rest by her doctor. I cringe a little when moms-to-be say they’re on bed rest, because doctors have known for ages that there’s no solid, consistent evidence that bed rest improves birth outcomes. And in the past few weeks, there have been reports that bed rest may actually make things worse.

If you are prescribed bed rest, consider that this could be a moment to move deeper into an empowered pregnancy experience for you and your baby. Do your research, practice informed consent/informed refusal, and respectfully request a deeper conversation with your care provider. Obstetrics has tended to be slow to implement evidence-based practice, and your care provider may not yet be practicing based on last month’s medical journal.

In talking with your care provider about how this latest research relates to you, you may find that intentional self-care –relaxation techniques, time in nature, mindful movement, deep breathing, healthy eating, healing touch– may be the most restful prescription for you!

Here are a few reports of the latest research on some of the trouble with bed rest:


Bed Rest During Pregnancy May Worsen Risk For Premature Birth

According to the article at HuffPo: “‘Bed rest is misperceived as an inexpensive, innocuous, logical recommendation,’ Dr. Joseph Biggio Jr. of the University of Alabama at Birmingham wrote in the latest issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, a journal read by thousands of OB-GYNs.”

And more emphatically: “A trio of obstetricians and ethicists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, …  said it’s not ethical to keep prescribing bed rest unless the women are enrolled in a research study.”


Really? The Claim: For a Difficult Pregnancy, Bed Rest Is Best

And at The New York Times: “In one randomized study, researchers followed 657 pregnant women at high risk of delivering preterm. About 250 of the women were ordered to restrict their activities to lower their risk. But the study found that nearly 40 percent of those women ended up delivering preterm, about double the number that were not confined to bed.”

This latest research, co-authored by the National Institutes of Health, adds to the body of bed rest research conducted for more than 20 years by Judith Maloni, professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University. According to an article at Science Daily, Maloni’s bed rest research has found “a number of troubling issues with bed rest, including such concerns as:

  • Loss of muscle function, muscle atrophy, sore muscles
  • Bone loss
  • Maternal weight loss, lower fetal weight
  • Fatigue, sleep cycle changes, boredom
  • Both antepartum and postpartum depression, mood changes
  • Nasal congestion, reflux, indigestion, back and muscle aches.”


Photo © Daria Filimonova |

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  1. I so agree! A few years ago I was working on an article for a national parenting magazine about getting through bed rest, and I came across a lot of information about the downsides, which as you point out are considerable. And yet the magazine had no desire to present that information — reasoning that the fact is, doctors still proscribe it, and often; and also, women (some of them) are happier that way (the better-safe-than-sorry approach). I think, sadly,that the practice is so entrenched that no medical professional is going to want to tell a woman, “bedrest won’t help,” and then possibly get sued if something untoward happens.

    Sigh — like so much of medical care for pregnant women!


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