Is Bed Rest Bunk?
When Britta Limary of Albuquerque was pregnant with her daughter, Sivanah, she planned to spend her third trimester picking out her baby's layette, relishing some alone time with her husband, and getting her home ready for their new addition. But when she started having contractions at 31 weeks, her obstetrician treated her with medication to stop them and put her on complete bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. In Limary's case, that meant she had to lie in bed (preferably on her side) and only get up to use the bathroom and take a quick shower.
She wasn't allowed to go to the kitchen for a snack, sit on her porch to get some fresh air, or even play with her miniature schnauzer puppy. "I hated every moment of bed rest," says Limary, who delivered Sivanah at 38 weeks. "I was bored and anxious, and felt like a prisoner in my own home. It was such a horrible chapter in my life -- I wouldn't wish it on anybody."
And in many similar situations, bed rest might not even be necessary. Though 90 percent of obstetricians prescribe bed rest to women with complications that increase the risk for preterm labor, such as high blood pressure, carrying multiples, and vaginal bleeding, no solid studies have ever shown that it's an effective treatment. In fact, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), "bed rest does not appear to improve the rate of preterm birth and should not be routinely recommended." And yet, doctors continue to do so to nearly 700,000 expectant patients -- about one in five -- each year.
"Bed rest is greatly over-prescribed," explains Mark Taslimi, M.D., professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. "The majority of women who are on bed rest don't need to be, and many experience physical, emotional, and financial complications that are completely unnecessary."