For many exhausted, heavily pregnant and sleep-deprived moms, the thought of being told to spend a few days in bed reading and catching up on TV series while someone else does the chores seems blissful. The reality, however, is far from wonderful. In fact, dad and instafather.com blogger Andy Shaw describes bed rest as “pregnancy’s huge slap in the face”.
What bed rest really means is dealing with constant fear and anxiety over your baby’s (and your) health; the stress of being unable to organise your life, home and job before the birth of your child; having to cope with confused and needy toddlers as well as an often overwhelmed partner. Couple this with stretches of absolute boredom, emotional exhaustion and physical aches and pains and you have it: bed rest.
But don’t worry, there are a few things you can do to make bed rest a little more manageable. Here are some tips and suggestions from the experts.
1. Ask for help
Asking for help can be extremely difficult, but, in truth, people love to, and really want to, help. “This is not the time to be proud. You need help and you’d be surprised how many people will come pouring out of the woodwork,” says Andy. “They’ll want to make food, buy groceries, and walk your dogs, read to your children or keep you company.” The trick is to make a list so that when people ask how they can help, you can be specific.
“Our friends and family were amazing at providing meals for us,” remembers Kathryn Poole, who was on bed rest from 16 weeks into her second pregnancy. “Friends would pick up my daughter Amelia (who was almost two years old) for play dates and playgroup. Friends went out of their way to see me and pray for us – it was those visits, gestures, prayers and messages of encouragement that kept me going.”
2. Make it special for your older children
“The hardest thing for me was being away from my four-year-old,” says Debbie Gregory, who was in hospital on bed rest for seven weeks during her pregnancy with her second son, Blake. “I looked forward to our daily visits so much. We both loved the board games or cards we played during each visit.”
Ask your partner or parents to take videos and pictures of your children (or even your pets) doing everyday things, set up FaceTime or Skype dates with each child or even just to be part of dinner at home. Send your children voice messages on WhatsApp and teach them how to send you ones, too – they will love hearing your voice and this can also take the pressure off a phone conversation. A great way to connect is to set up a Skype or video bedtime story, or write a story just for them.
As Andy says: “Improvise!” If you’re at home, move the high chair into your bedroom so you can share meals, cuddle up and nap with your toddler when he needs to, or ask him to put on a show for you. Have a box of special toys and books (or even drinks and snacks) next to your bed that your toddler is only allowed when he’s with you. Kathryn bought Amelia a special colouring book nd kept it with her in the hospital.
There are so many practical, and even fun, things you can do to make bed rest run more smoothly, but the most important thing, as obstetrician Dr Cath Elliot points out, is to “take things one day at a time, literally”.
3. Do exercise
Dr Elliot says, “Keeping as mobile as possible in bed helps mitigate the side effects associated with being stationary for so long.” Gentle movements will help to keep you strong and prepare you for birth and a newborn (get the go-ahead from your doctor first). Physiotherapist Tessa Loftus suggests stretching your neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back and legs, and flexing and pointing your toes and ankles 10 to 20 times every hour to help prevent blood clots. Pelvic tilts or bridging exercises will help ease lower back pain and strengthen your buttocks and legs. Importantly, you must breathe properly – exhale on exertion to avoid increasing intra-abdominal pressure, and never let your heart rate go above 110 beats per minute.
4. Prepare yourself emotionally
Your emotions will be in turmoil. Denial, shock, depression, boredom, even anger, guilt and resentment “are all normal and expected emotions. And you have every right to feel them,” reassures clinical psychologist Georgiana Greenwood. “Acknowledge them, then remind yourself of the ultimate goal – to give your baby the best chance for a healthy start. This will make coping with the emotional swings much easier.” Clinical psychologist Cornel van der Merwe agrees: “Learning mindfulness and meditation techniques are also excellent ways to alleviate anxiety and depression.”
5. Get connected
Now is the time to make technology work for you and get connected! Set up your bed-based office if you have to keep working. Do online grocery shopping – Pick n Pay, Woolworths and Makro all do home deliveries. Subscribe to an on-demand TV channel such as Showmax.com, download books or subscribe to the online editions of your favourite magazines. Make a playlist of songs to relax you and make you smile. Load your iPod with podcasts and guided meditations, or look on the internet for parenting topics and chat groups. If you need some inspiration that has nothing to do with babies, watch TED Talks on YouTube or listen to NPR TED Radio Hour on npr.org.
6. Stay in contact
Although it may feel like it, you are not alone. Join online forums and chat rooms with other moms on bed rest, such as keepemcooking.com – you may find some great advice, or just connect with someone else who really undrestands how you are feeling. “I had a friend who also had a very hard pregnancy and a preemie,” says Kathryn. “She was amazing to have around and encouraged me the whole way.”
7. Indulge yourself a little
Bed rest is anything but a spa day, but it can be a chance to spoil yourself or do some of the things you haven’t had time for. “I taught myself to knit and crochet,” says Kathryn, “and I focused on making stuff for the baby to stay positive.” Find out if your hospital offers treatments such as manicures and pedicures or arrange for a hairdresser to come to your home. “I had just moved to a new town, so I didn’t have many friends, which made it quite lonely,” says Debbie. “I hadn’t done much for the arrival of the baby, so I spent my days shopping online, reading books and trying to enjoy as much rest as possible.”
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.