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Making the best of bed rest

Practical ways to cope with a prone pregnancy

Aileen Weintraub

I sat on the examining room table wearing nothing but a flimsy paper robe trying to comprehend the words that were coming out of my doctor’s mouth. I was 18 weeks pregnant and hardly showing my baby bump. When I was finally able to sort out what my doctor was saying, I understood that I’d be tremendously lucky if my baby made it to 24 weeks. I had three uterine fibroids, and one was pressing on my cervix, causing early effacement. I was designated to five months of full bed rest and told not to get up until I felt labor pains.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was far from alone. Each year in the United States, approximately 700,000 women end up on bed rest, suffering from complications that force them to check out of life, lie down, and wait. The idea behind bed rest is that otherwise normal activities, such as lifting, exercising and going to work, will cause additional strain to an already fragile state. Simply stated, bed rest helps stabilize a woman’s body.

Putting your life on hold for a long period of time is no easy task. Luckily, there are many practical ways to cope and keep your sanity during these days in waiting.

Ask for help

Starting with the basics: Each morning, have your partner pack a cooler full of nutritious meals and snacks to keep bedside for easy access. Next: Don’t be afraid to reach out to your community. Asking for help is difficult, but finding an extended support system is key. Relying on a few go-to people who can run errands for you, go grocery shopping, cook, and assist with other daily needs will make life infinitely better. Many times people want to help; they just don’t know how.

Keep your mind active

You may not be able to move around much, but you can still exercise your mind. Finding ways to stay alert will keep brain fog at bay and lift your spirits. Do crossword puzzles, read books, balance your checkbook, or take up a new hobby such as knitting or origami. Julia Jeon-Stewart of Stone Ridge was on bed rest for three weeks due to premature labor. She says, “I learned that being on bed rest is frustrating and challenging to not only myself but the entire family. I got through bed rest by reading the Sunday Times all week, journal writing, which helped me clear my thoughts and organize life’s curve balls, and shopping online in preparation for the baby. I tried my best to keep up with my active 4-year-old son by building Lego sets, playing board games, coloring, and watching movies.”

Remember: It’s temporary

It is also beneficial to acknowledge the emotional ramifications of being on bed rest. Bed rest can turn an otherwise joyful time into one wrought with fear and uncertainty. Janna Cohen of Stone Ridge was on modified bed rest for four-and-a-half months due to a short cervix. She says, “There were so many hours in the day where I just felt sorry for myself. I began to reflect. I knew that this was a temporary state, and, knowing that this would soon be over, I realized it was a challenge I could overcome.” Talking to someone you trust who can relate to your experience is another way to help you sort through mixed emotions.

Get a massage

Physically speaking, it’s important to keep your circulation flowing. Check with your doctor to see if you can have regular prenatal massages. Not only will it help alleviate aches, pains, and stiffness, it will help you de-stress. Rebecca Larsen, a licensed massage therapist and doula from Rosendale explains, “Massages can greatly ease discomfort and address the physiologic changes by moving waste through the body, working with the overstretched ligaments, and connecting a woman to her pregnancy in a positive way. When you cannot move around much, the health benefits of massage act on your body as if you’d just taken a nice walk.”

Bed rest will change your life in myriad ways, but the very best way to cope with this challenge is to keep your eye on the prize. After five harrowing months in bed, my beautiful boy was born with a huge dent on his head from being pushed up against my fibroids. The dent quickly faded, but I knew then that we had been in this together all along, and every endless moment of bed rest had been worth the wait.

Aileen Weintraub is a freelance writer living in Ulster County. She is currently writing a memoir entitled “Womb Service” about her time on pregnancy-related bed rest.