Supporting Mental Health During Bed Rest While Pregnant

young african woman pregnancyAs a first-time mom, I waltzed into my 8-month pregnancy checkup expecting a routine exam and the go-ahead to proceed full speed (or waddle) ahead through the rest of my pregnancy. I was feeling good, although somewhat fatigued, as my firstborn baby boy was taking up increasingly more space in my torso. I had envisioned working straight on through to a week before delivery, welcoming my new baby into the world in just two months’ time.

Instead, I was dumbfounded. The nurse midwife took my blood pressure, and I could see the look of alarm on her face. Before I could ask her what was going on, she took the reading a second time, without speaking, and then when the reading came in, she immediately stated “lay on your left side, right now!”

My blood pressure read 160/89, a dangerously high level, which indicated I had developed a pregnancy complication called preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension). I could feel the nurse’s alarm and knew intuitively that my health and that of my baby’s was at risk. The nurse went on to explain that though I had not developed the more severe and potentially life-threatening eclampsia (which could result in stroke or death), that aggressive measures were called for to lower my blood pressure.

Lying on my left side helped the flow of blood to the placenta and the baby, it was explained. She then told me that I would be prescribed a medication to lower my reading and that I would be placed on bed rest immediately. I was to go home and plan on lying in bed for the next two months of my pregnancy.

Shock, disappointment, feeling like a failure as a mom, anger at my body for betraying me and my child, grief over the end of my ideal image of an uncomplicated pregnancy—all these emotions swooped over me simultaneously, and I burst into tears. I called my husband and told him the news. He was relieved mom and baby were fine and drove from work to bring me and my swollen belly back home to rest and nest for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. The journey to get there was a bit tumultuous with the bed rest and a very difficult delivery. Luckily, with good self-care, I delivered a healthy baby boy two months later, albeit after a four-day labor/induction with an epidural that only numbed half of my body during the majority of my Pitocin-induced labor (that’s the subject for a different article). A month after giving birth, my blood pressure returned to normal. My son went on to develop without complications. Then began the adjustment to the enormous role transition to first-time motherhood.

Bed rest can bring about a multitude of emotion for the mom-to-be. The fantasy of the perfect pregnancy and birth are often foremost on the new mother’s mind as they watch A Baby Story on TV, read articles of celebrities’ pain-free water births leaving nary a stretch mark, and observe Tide commercials with a new mother glowing in a mountain meadow with her hair gently blowing in the breeze and her children frolicking around her in their Tide-scented clothing.

Usually those images of pregnancy and childbirth are a bit fallacious. One can certainly imagine and envision a healthy pregnancy and delivery and then proceed to go about doing everything possible to make that happen. But sometimes life gets in the way. Plans have to be adjusted. There is no perfect pregnancy or delivery, and it’s not the mother’s fault. Sometimes just by virtue of biological complications or health and medical issues, the best laid plans have to be adjusted.

Bed rest is one of those complications. And women who are “prescribed” bed rest are more at risk for perinatal depression and anxiety, according to recent studies. Therefore, it behooves medical practitioners and mental health workers to be mindful of this fact. I’ll say it again: Pregnancy complications resulting in bed rest can place a mother at risk for perinatal depression and anxiety.

As mentioned before, a woman can feel guilty and angry that her body has betrayed her and her baby. Her dreams of the ideal pregnancy have been dashed, and she must succumb to many hours of rest, while simultaneously worrying about the health and safety of herself and her unborn child.

Having to take an early medical leave from work may place undue financial strain on her household, potentially shortening her total maternity leave time and allowable bonding time with her newborn baby. (That’s the subject of another article on family-friendly family leave policies in this country).

She may have limitations on being able to leave her house, attend planned baby showers, put together the baby’s nursery, etc. Her urge to nest and prepare for her baby’s arrival must be suppressed if she isn’t able to get out of bed to wash and fold newborn clothes, assemble the diaper changer station, etc. Her life has just turned upside down.

With the sudden news of bed rest, I found the following tips to be helpful during my own period of bed rest. I believe it is possible to reframe circumstances and make lemonade out of a lemon of a situation.

  • Stack up on books (e-books), videos, movies, books on tape, iPod music. Having visual and auditory stimulation and input helps prevent boredom and keep the mind active and entertained, as well as distracted when thoughts wander to worry.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. It’s easy to focus on what’s not going well when you are on bed rest. However, when you allow your mind to linger on what you are thankful for, you’d be amazed how things could actually be a lot worse, and your brain then begins to train itself to look for the positive.
  • Have your significant other/family member/good friend provide a foot massage and pedicure.
  • Aromatherapy helps. Have some lavender and chamomile essential oil/linen spray available to induce a sense of calm and relaxation.
  • Have friends come over to keep you company and chat, use FaceTime, or Skype. Bring the baby shower to your bed rest room.
  • If you are on partial bed rest and your doctor allows you to get up and move periodically, use that time to get some sunshine and sit outside, connecting with nature. The vitamin D will help lift your mood.
  • Play relaxing, meditative music that helps you enter a relaxed state with the possibility of guided meditation, deep breathing, and positive visualization.
  • Avoid negative influences (depressing news stories, guilt-inducing magazine articles) and surround yourself only with positive, uplifting messages (see Louise Hay’s hayhouse.com for positive affirmation card deck ideas).
  • If the doctor allows for some stretching or movement exercises, do so as often as is indicated to keep circulation optimal; this also helps with keeping a positive outlook.
  • Have your significant other massage achy muscles or hire a massage therapist.
  • Remember that bed rest is temporary and nesting/decorating can happen in the future, with the help of family and friends. You can direct traffic and delegate tasks so that you feel relaxed, knowing that the baby’s nursery is set up and ready to go.
  • Be kind to yourself and let go of perfectionism. The perfect pregnancy does not exist. You are keeping yourself and your baby healthy and well by following your doctor’s advice.
  • Check out an online forum for moms on bedrest—every day, there are new forums on the Internet.

If you feel that you are experiencing symptoms of sadness, depression, hopelessness, panic, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and overall extreme fatigue, you may be experiencing perinatal mood/anxiety issues. Please check out Postpartum Support International (postpartum.net) for service providers in your area/state/region who can help you as relates to lactation consultation, psychiatry, perinatal psychotherapy, moms support groups (online if possible), doula assistance, etc.

You can also look for a therapist in your area who specializes in assisting with perinatal mental health issues on the GoodTherapy.org therapist directory.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, therapist in Pleasant Hill, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • april C

    april C

    May 6th, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    The same thing happened to me, I hit that 8 month mark and boom the blood pressure skyrocketed. Modified bed rest for me… which was like a death sentence because I am not one to sit still for any amount of time. It was very hard for me and I thought that I would go crazy. I had so much to do, and it was right at Christmas so you can imagine everything going on that I wanted to be a part of and share with all but couldn’t. I didn’t want anyone coming over because I thought that it would be a burden to them and I thought that they would scold me if I even tried to get up to do something for myself! It was hard and I think the biggest reason was because I never ever thought that this would be a part of my pregnancy story.

  • Leisel

    Leisel

    May 7th, 2014 at 3:22 AM

    It really does help to have friends and family who are willing to come by every day and help out wround the house and keep you company. And oh yeah, a good supportive partner is always a bonus too! Just think of it as the rest that you need, the calm before the storm! ;)

  • terra

    terra

    May 7th, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    Aaahhh the whole bed rest scenario… been there done that and I can’t say that I was sad in any way! I felt like I was taking care of myself and my baby and the mild inconveniences that that caused was more than made up for when I was able to deliver a healthy almost full term child. I am glad that my doctor saw that we were having some issues and decided that this was the best for both of us. I can’t imagine what would have happened had I not taken his advice and rested like I did, my baby or me could have expereinced some severe health problems. So if they say do it, then do it, and relax a little!

  • Hawke

    Hawke

    May 8th, 2014 at 3:27 AM

    Get Netflix or Hulu and catch up on some tv that you have been neglecting

  • georgette

    georgette

    May 9th, 2014 at 3:39 AM

    Like I told my daughter-in-law. This is not the time to be feeling sorry for yourself, but a time to take care of yourself and the unborn child.

    No one would put you on bed rest just for fun or just for the heck of it. There has to be an obvious medical reason that this is being prescribed. If you don’t pay attention to that need then you could end up with serious health issues and I don’t think that there is anyone who would want that for their baby.

    Take their word for it and do what you can to ensure a full term pregnancy and the birth of a healthy child. There is nothing that can happen while you are on bed rest that someone else can’t help you with, and there are likely more than enough people to help you.

  • Donna

    Donna

    May 12th, 2014 at 3:53 AM

    Doctors have to know just how difficult this will be for many families, so what I think might help would be if they had an in house counselor to work with their patients who are prescribed bed rest and help them work through or at least talk about many of the issues that they will be facing and dealing with. And this does not have to just be the woman, but get the husbands involced, talk to them about how they can help in this process and show the women how they can let others help them and support them when you think that this is going to be a tough transition for you.

  • Heather B

    Heather B

    September 18th, 2014 at 7:22 AM

    I was nearly hospitalized several times for hypertension and I was very ill during my pregnancy with my son. So I spent most of my time resting, not on official bed rest, but trying to prevent it anyway and stay out of the hospital. It was a good time to attempt beginning the bonding process. It did not come naturally because I was so sick, but one of the things we did was regularly read a week-by-week development book. It is truly amazing to track the miracle that is taking place. It really made a difference for me even after birth, and it was great for my husband, too. Now, there are a lot of great books and blogs out there to serve this purpose, but the one I’m reading now blows all the others away, and it’s great for every pregnancy, not just the first. Not only does it have even more development details than usual, and personalized, it has a section in it where you can journal or write letters to baby. It’s called “The Wonder Within You: celebrating your baby’s journey from conception to birth” by Carey Wickersham. It’s an awesome combination of week-to-week information, what’s going on with the baby, “Did you know?” plus health advice about what to eat, cravings, nutrition, etc, BUT also with awesome 3D/4D pictures and videos you can link or QR with your phone to and see what your baby looks like at each week stage. I’ve just not seen anything exactly like it! It’s got famous quotes and real mom stories, too. The pregnancy information is as up-to-date as it gets and it’s such a great keepsake. I want to get one for everybody I know who is expecting! I highly recommend it! TheWonderWithinYou.com.

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