Why Doctors Are Now Calling Bed Rest “Unethical”

If you've ever experienced any complications during your pregnancy, you may be familiar with the age-old doctor's advice to tuck you and your baby bump straight into the safety of bed rest. 

When it comes to protecting your most precious cargo, bed rest just seems to make sense, doesn't it? Sure, it may be a little controversial and, sure, doctors can't say for sure that it will help ensure that a baby makes it longer to full term, but what mother would be out running errands and lifting heavy objects and doing all sorts of other daily activities that seem like they could harm her baby if a doctor tells her not to?

Staying in bed, resting, and avoiding undue stress for the baby's sake just seems safer. 

But a doctor who has been an OB specialist for over 20 years says that not only is bed rest not helpful, it can actually be harmful. 

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Image via Flickr/ Philippe Put

Maternal-fetal medicine specialist Anthony J. Sciscione said that bed rest, contrary to what any common sense would tell us, actually does more harm to a pregnant woman and her baby than any kind of normal, daily activity could cause. 

He cites study after study that have proven that bed rest does not in any way prevent premature birth, which is why doctors prescribe it in the first place. But not only does it not stop premature birth, but it also can lead to blood clots in a mother who lies in bed for long periods at a time, bring about unnecessary weight gain that adds stress to the mother's and baby's bodies, as well as kick start muscle loss and weakness.

Babies who are born to moms on bed rest also frequently have lower birth weights, and mothers on bed rest also have higher incidences of postpartum depression. And then there's everything from the emotional and financial impact, not to mention the fact that one study even found that bed rest actually coincided with an increased incidence of premature labor. 

With all the complications that bed rest can cause–with literally not a shred of evidence that it can be helpful at all to prevent premature labor–it's really no surprise that one doctor called bed rest “unethical.” 

What is surprising, however, is the fact that even with all the evidence that proves bed rest does more harm than good and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendation not to prescribe bed rest, doctors still use it–even though the majority of them know it doesn't work. 

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Doctors who want to help women and their babies may feel helpless in the face of fighting premature labor because there aren't a lot of options or answers when it comes to why so many babies are born prematurely. Bed rest is something that doctors feel they can “prescribe,” and mothers feel like it's something they can “do” to try to help in what feels like a pretty helpless situation. 

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Of course, it's understandable why mothers and their doctors would look for a course of action to prevent premature labor, but when it comes to bed rest, know the facts before you resign yourself to weeks in bed–for both your and your baby's sake. 

Did you go on bed rest? Why or why not? 

What do you think?

Why Doctors Are Now Calling Bed Rest “Unethical”

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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18 comments

  1. HILARY says:

    With my first baby I had preeclampsia and associated hypertension. The only thing that would bring my blood pressure down was lying horizontally-also known as bedrest. I don’t see how any doctor would disagree with that. Bedrest allowed me to carry my daughter two more precious weeks that she was able to develop. It was actually the best medicine for me.

  2. Dayzee says:

    Medication is proven to work better than strict bed rest to calm a contracting uterus.

  3. Emily says:

    I am in the 35th week of my first pregnancy, and due to complications worsened by pregnancy (bulging discs from car accidents, Symphisis Pubic Dysfuntion due to my body releasing hormone relaxin too early, and pelvic misalignment) I have been expierencing severe pain when sitting, walking, driving, etc… Finally, my doctor advised that since he and my orthepaedic specialst agreed I was to start bed rest for the remaining 2 months of my pregnancy.

    However, they made it clear to only rest intermittently so as to prevent muscle loss, blood clots, and boredom/depression. So I try to sleep in 2-3 hour intervals, and when watching TV or surging the web I rest on the couch instead.

    When I do “move around” I do so slowly and cautiously, and thankfully have tons of support from family and friends when it comes to cleaning house, etc…

    Thus far I have only had one scare of preterm contractions, and after about 5 hours in the ER they were able to stop them and send me home to continue taking it super easy.

    I feel this topic deserves some much deeper research in all aspects.

  4. Cody says:

    Just like with anything else EVERY pregnancy is different and EVERY baby is different. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

  5. Kim says:

    I feel a little upset that there seems to be no proof that bed rest helps prevent premature birth….

    During my 2nd pregnancy, I was put on bed rest for 6 months! I started contracting & dilating in the first trimester, plus I had a high risk history. My 1st son was born prematurely (32 wks). My first birthing experience consisted of bed rest in the hospital antepartum unit after I arrived 7 cm dilated at 29 wks. My bed was flipped upside down & I was given magnesium sulfate which basically paralyzed me. (It was difficult to breathe.) My son was born healthy, although premature a couple weeks later. As soon as he reached 5 lbs, docs took me off meds & he was born soon thereafter.

    For fear of the same experience with my 2nd son, I listened to doctors. After my first pregnancy we learned that I had a severely divided, bicornuate uterus, so doctors didn’t seem to have any other suggestions to prevent preterm labor in a uterus that is half the size it should be. I quit my job & was on bed rest & meds to prevent contractions for most of that pregnancy. I do believe it helped because he was born exactly on his due date at a healthy 7.1 lbs. But it was torturous being in bed for that long! I gained extra weight because I lived on fast food that my hubs picked up on his way home from work everyday, since I couldn’t stand long enough to cook a meal. I felt so depressed and miserable and my muscles were sore and weak. I feel it made labor (although it was quick) very difficult, because my body was so inactive for so long. I would not wish bed rest in anyone!! But, we will do anything for our babies. Xo

  6. Mercedes says:

    I agree with this article. Bed rest caused me a great deal of stress because I was placed on bed rest with very little in home support. I had to leave my job, I had just purchased a home and the boredom left me stressed out of my mind. I lost muscle and suffered nutritionally b/c I could not cook for myself. My boyfriend had to work a lot of over time just to make ends meet. I was basically in isolation the majority of the time. I did not discover the downsides of bed rest until I began doing research on it in graduate school. I was only on bed rest for 2 weeks and my son was still premature at 24 weeks. He only lived 5 months, never leaving the hospital. I believe stress plays a bigger role in preterm birth and if your: finances, job, man and/or family are stressing you out those are the things/people that need to be put on rest not your entire body. However, everyone is different but if given the choice again I don’t think I would have constantly stayed in the bed. I would have just took it easy mentally and physically.

  7. ValeryPipes says:

    I disagree I was on bed rest for almost 3months. My son was 9lbs 1oz. He was a week late. He tried to come early 2x and after I was told bed rest. He decided to settle in and finish growing. I’m thankful for the dreaded bed rest. It felt like torture at the time, but my son is absolutely wonderful he’s 8 now and super smart.

  8. Emily says:

    I doubt bed rest can be all that bad, at 16 weeks I got rushed to hospital with suspected miscarriage (luckily little one was still alive) a week later I got rushed in again with another suspected miscarriage but yet again baby was still alive, I got put on 5 weeks bed rest because I had a lot of blood in my womb, my 20 week scan showed all the anomalies of the bleeding on the closest layer of womb to my baby, and I’m now 34 weeks, if I never went on bed rest I could of possibly lost my little one…

  9. tracy says:

    I disagree with this article for certain birthing cases. My first pregnancy i developed pre eclampsia in my 3rd trimester. I’m a hairdresser, so long days on my feet, i was swelling so much nothing fit my feet or really my legs up to my knee not good for winter time when i had to do flip flops and dresses just to be able to be out and about, that and the hand swelling i could barely get my hand in my scissors to cut hair. I went on bedrest at 33 weeks and induced at 37 weeks with blood pressure spiking at 195 over 120. I gained 47 lbs mostly water weight and all was lost by 6 week check up. My daughter was 6.4lbs but healthy and happy. Then pregnancy #2 i went the opposite direction i gained 17lbs the whole pregnancy but had supper low blood pressure to the point i was dizzy as heck from 30 weeks on. I Kept working till 35 weeks and started passing out. I was then put on bed rest and sent to a heart doctor to have every heart test possible to see why my pressure was sitting an average of 80s over 50s. Doctors decided my boy was sitting on blood vessels just right and all would return to normal few weeks after delivery. Witch it did about 5 weeks after having my son. I was a fall risk so put on bed rest till they enduced me at 39 weeks term baby cause he was happy and healthy just mommy had crazy blood pressure. When i got my epidural they had to flush a bag and a half of iv fluid it to me as fast as possible cause my pressure dropped to a all time low of 52 over 33. I wasn’t dizzy yet but anistieologist told me i looked good for being dead and had my husband stand there and squeeze a iv bag while another was on a pole both wide open. My happy healthy boy was born 7.6lbs. Epidural did not work well with this labor i felt 90 percent of the pain and blood pressure only went to 75 over 46 when i delivered. At 6 weeks out i still have 5lbs of real baby fat left to lose. Bedrest helped with both my pregnancys. My children are 21 months and 2 months old. Love my happy family. As for more pregnancys i have opted out and gotten a tubal. I have 2 happy healthy childeren and my body has said it does not like pregnancy, labors were not bad. So bed rest helped with both my pregnancys. Bad for my pocketbook but great for happy healthy babies. Went back to work and all is great now. I couldn’t ask for better babies.

  10. Stephanie says:

    My husband insists that I rest a lot and I really prefer it, although I am still moderately active, but I WANT my baby to have a lower birth weight (She is projected to be 8 lbs at time of delivery) and to hurry up and come out… We’re past 37 weeks, so by now it’s safe to deliver any time. But every time I am more active than short bursts I get contractions that hurt, so that’s another reason I rest more.

  11. Tabatha says:

    I pprom at 15 weeks and I did 3 months bed rest and I believe it saved my daughters life. Best decision my dr and I could have made. I did get up and do things occasionally like go visiting friends but they also accommodated my needs. They would let me lay in extra room or in recliner. I even went to the lake but sat in a reclining lawn chair and stayed cool under an umbrella. I now have a healthy happy soon to be 1 year old on November 24. She was still born prematurely but I know bed rest saved her life. I did two months at home bed rest and one in the hospital. I did leg exercises to keep my legs from cramping or blood clots. I switched sides often never had any issues.

  12. Melissa says:

    I can see what this article is saying, but I disagree that it shouldn’t be prescribed or it’s unethical. I had an incompetent cervix, and not being vertical is really the best for that. I was put on modified bed rest, giving me the ability to do basic things like make my own food. That, and the stitches I got, helped me make it full term.

  13. Member says:

    I absolutely disagree!! My water broke with one of my twins at 22 weeks. I was immediately put on strict hospital bed rest. I remained under observation and on bed rest allowed up only to visit the bathroom (even used a bedpan for the first 10 days!). Things were seemingly stable for six weeks do my doctors ok’ed a short wheelchair ride outside just to give me a breath of fresh air. I was out for only 10 minutes and began having contractions. They were 5 minutes apart by the time I got back in my bed…my twins were born 10 hours later after failed attempts to stop contractions. I’m thankful I stayed on bed rest as long as I did, and to this day wish I’d never even taken the wheelchair ride.

  14. lesly says:

    i disagree I was put on bed rest cause my water broke at 29 weeks and because it helped I had my baby at 35 weeks and today I have a gorgeous 7 month old bedrest helped in my case

  15. Jacki says:

    I disagree. I was put on bedrest for my 38th and 39th week of pregnancy. I had such high blood pressure 200 over 102. It only spiked when I was up in moving around. while relaxing and not moving off of the couch or out of bed My blood pressure was a lot better it was 150 over 85. Not perfect but better. without bed rest. my baby or myself could have endured harm

  16. Courtney says:

    I have to disagree with this article. While I do see their point, bedrest was the only thing that keep my boys in. I went into preterm labor at 23 weeks with my twins, after they got my contractions stopped I was dilated to 4cm and 100% effaced. Naturally, they put me on bedrest. With bedrest, I was able to keep them in another 14 weeks, and I delivered them at 37 weeks. There were a couple of times that I had to get up and do things, i.e. go to my brothers wedding, and that sent me into preterm labor again around 30 weeks. Once again, once the contractions were stopped and I settled back down, we were good to go again. If it were not for bedrest, my boys probably would have come before 30 weeks.

  17. Janice says:

    I can actually say I agree. With my third childbirth I was put on bed rest. He weighed 6 pounds even, I also retained too much water. As well I experienced postpartum depression. I do not know if being put on bed rest has a play in this. It makes sense sonewhat .

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