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Bed Rest- It Can Make You Crazy…

“To me it felt like I was just sitting on bed rest, waiting to have a seizure, you know, waiting to start circling the drain.” “Every time I went to the doctor I had this…anxiety attack.” These are the words of pregnant women diagnosed with preeclampsia and on bed rest. Other phrases reported by the authors who interviewed women on bedrest included “…an impending doom…”,  “…meltdown…”, “nervous wreck.” A few of the major themes that emerged in the interviews was that of negative thoughts and feelings, family stressors, and not being heard. And while using the term “crazy” is not truly appropriate, women who are forced to abruptly stop interacting and participating in their typical life activities must be regarded as being very high risk for more than just physical issues. Kehler et al., 2016

bed restIn an ideal situation, bed rest during pregnancy is prescribed to help keep the mother and fetus healthy. Unfortunately, bed rest in itself is associated with potentially negative consequences in physical and mental health, and providers are not always up-to-date on changing recommendations for bedrest. Perhaps the cautious attitude of providers towards minimizing risk guides some choices. In addition, many women describe frustration about lack of clear guidelines, difficulty managing their stressful feelings, and varying degrees of support from medical providers.

During pregnancy-related bed rest, research has described how the entire family is affected. Physically, the mother may have changes in her circadian rhythms, increased anxiety, depression, and hostility. The rest of the family can also experience and demonstrate stress. Other children may act out, partners may be more stressed and worried, and financial strain may be a concern. Bigelow & Stone, 2011 Although we as rehab professionals may not have solutions for every issue, we may be able to facilitate accessing resources and at a minimum hear what a woman is dealing with during this stressful time.  Many women, even when on bedrest, are allowed to attend medical appointments such as physical therapy, and should be provided with appropriate physical and mental activities to help minimize muscle atrophy and stress. Home health or hospital-based providers are also in a perfect position to educate providers on the value of referrals while the patient is at home or in the hospital.

We should keep these issues in mind during pregnancy as well as in the postpartum period. Maloni & Park (2005) measured postpartum symptoms in women who were on bedrest during pregnancy, and at 6 weeks postpartum, 40% of the 106 women (high-risk, singleton) complained of mood changes, difficulty concentrating, and other physical issues. Women who had a c-section had worsened symptoms, and the length of time on bed rest was highly correlated with the number of symptoms.

Bed rest affects a woman’s cognition, creates fear, a sense of lack of control, powerlessness, and even anger. “Because of this, Rodrigues and colleagues (Rodrigues et al., 2016) suggest that “…mental disorders should be routinely investigated during high-risk pregnancy, whenever possible with the use of specific instruments so that they can be detected early and so that interventions can be made in due time.” If you are interested in discussing this issue and many others, check out the Institute’s continuing education choices in peripartum health. The next Care of the Postpartum Patient course is taking place on September 16-17, 2017 in Nashville, TN.


Bigelow, C., & Stone, J. (2011). Bed rest in pregnancy. The Mount Sinai Journal Of Medicine, New York, 78(2), 291-302. doi: 10.1002/msj.20243
Kehler, S., Ashford, K., Cho, M., & Dekker, R. L. (2016). Experience of Preeclampsia and Bed Rest: Mental Health Implications. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 37(9), 674-681.
Maloni, J. A., & Park, S. (2005). Postpartum Symptoms After Antepartum Bed Rest. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 34(2).
Meher, S., Abalos, E., & Carroli, G. (2005). Bed rest with or without hospitalisation for hypertension during pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4.
Rodrigues, P. B., Zambaldi, C. F., Cantilino, A., & Sougey, E. B. (2016). Special features of high-risk pregnancies as factors in development of mental distress: a review. Trends in psychiatry and psychotherapy, 38(3), 136-140.

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