Bed Rest in Pregnancy: Health Risks

Why do Ob-Gyns prescribe bed rest so frequently? Does it truly benefit mothers or babies, or result in longer gestations? Research shows little or no support for bed rest during pregnancy, even when preterm contractions are present.

According to this article published in Western Journal of Medicine in 1991, bed rest is comparable to aging in it’s effects on the human body. When you’re preparing for one of the most rigorous events in your life, is it wise to inflict upon yourself the equivalent of aging - perhaps 20 or 30 years? Jay Hathaway, Director of the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth (AAHCC) calls it, “the perfect recipe for obstetric disaster”.

Use It or Lose It — The Hazards of Bed-Rest and Inactivity

PAUL J. CORCORAN, MD, Boston, Massachusetts Professional experience and lay wisdom teach us the benefits of exercise and the hazards of idleness. Yet the myth persists that “bed rest is good for you” when ill or convalescing. Abundant scientific evidence in the past 50 years has demonstrated the specific damage done to each of the body’s organ systems by inactivity. Both aging and inactivity lead to strikingly similar kinds of deterioration. I summarize the data from military and veterans’ hospitals, rehabilitation experience, aerospace research, and gerontology and review the physiologic and metabolic changes of aging and inactivity, along with strategies to help prevent the iatrogenicCaused-by,-or-originating-with,-the-doct... complications of bed rest.

(Corcoran PJ: Use It or Lose It — The Hazards of Bed-Rest and Inactivity, In Rehabilitation Medicine-Adding Life to Years [Special Issue]. West J Med 1991 May: 154:536-538)

TABLE 1. Unnecessary Additional Disabilities
Due to Bed Rest
Joints Contractures: loss of normal range of motion
Muscles Disease atrophy: 15% loss per week of inactivity
Bone Osteoporosis; pathologic fractures
Urinary tract Infection; calculosis
Heart Deconditioning: decreased cardiac reserve; decreased stroke volume; resting and postexercise tachycardia
Circulation Orthostatic hypertension; thrombophlebitis
Lung Pulmonary embolism; atelectasis; pneumonia
Gastrointestinal Anorexia; hospital-acquired malnutrition; constipation, impaction
Skin Decubitus ulcer
Psyche Anxiety, depression, disorientation


Look at those items again! One side effect is “loss of normal range of motion” in joints. When but in childbirth do you most need your full range of motion so you can choose the birth position most comfortable to you, or that best suited to bringing your baby into the world? And urinary tract infection…as if that wasn’t common enough in pregnancy! Not to mention the associated requirement of antibiotics, which are not especially good for your growing baby, and can lead to yeast infections and thrush when nursing, which in turn can lead to mastitis (breast infection). What is labor if not the equivalent of running a marathon…yet bed rest deconditions you!

All sorts of nutrition-related problems exist during bed rest. Anorexia is common…not the psychological sort, but rather a plain and simple loss of appetite, due to total lack of activity. Malnutrition is the obvious side-effect, and it’s very clear that malnutrition is the cause of a host of maternal and fetal problems. And finally, what pregnant woman can’t attest to the fact that her bowels just aren’t moving like they used to…and yet bed rest is implicated in causing further constipation and impaction.

Finally, one of the most important issues during pregnancy is mom’s emotional health. If she’s stressed out, so is the baby, and it doesn’t grow and develop as well. And during labor, you want to be clear headed and focused, and most of all RELAXED. And yet again, bed rest is known to cause anxiety, depression, and disorientation.

If your doctor prescribes bed rest during pregnancy, it is vital that you consider the pros and cons. Are your symptoms severe enough to warrant bed rest, and it’s associated pathology? Or could some of your symptoms be alleviated by natural means, such as diet or herbs? Talk to your doctor about your concerns. Share this research with him/her. And consider talking to another health care professional, or someone in an alternative field before going on bedrest during pregnancy.

  • Special Concerns Subpages

  • Copyright  1999-2013 Marci J. Abraham (formerly O'Daffer) and/or Thomas Brewer, M. D. - All Rights Reserved
    Logo image and past logo images published with/for Blue Ribbon Baby content Copyright  2007 Marci J. Abraham (formerly O'Daffer) - All Rights Reserved
    Some material may have an earlier copyright date, if it was written by Dr. Brewer prior to the website being published.