By Dawn K. Gibson, LCSW
In our society, being pregnant is seen as a joyous event; something to celebrate, not something to endure. However, once a woman learns that her health and/or her baby’s health is in danger and she is placed on bed rest, her entire pregnancy and outlook changes. Although mothers know that being on bed rest is best for them and their babies, lying in bed all day can evoke a host of unexpected emotions. Women may feel isolated, angry, scared, sad, and helpless, or as if they have lost control over their bodies, babies, and lives. Even so, there are many ways a woman can empower herself, gain some sense of control over her life and care for her mental health and her baby while feeling “stuck” in bed.
Self-Care on Bed Rest
Self-care is important for everyone, especially during pregnancy, after having a child, and ESPECIALLY during a high-risk pregnancy. It is easy to allow being on bed rest to take over your emotions, sometimes leaving you feeling helpless – like you have lost control over your own life. Below are strategies that can be used to implement your own individualized self-care plan and begin to feel empowered, even while on bed rest.
Helpful Tools for Your Self-Care Plan
When we think of self-care, we generally think about walking around the neighborhood or going to the gym. Those are great ways to care for yourself, but obviously they cannot be done while on bed rest. The self-care I speak of is simple and can be done daily, from your bed, in the hospital or at home.
- Develop a Daily Routine – When on bed rest for long periods of time, days, weeks and months run together. Following a daily routine will help to split up your day and give you a sense of purpose throughout the day.
- Breathe – Take deep belly breaths throughout the day, several times per day. Breathe in through your nose, let your stomach expand; breathe out through your mouth, and feel your stomach relax. Take three to five deep breaths in a row and notice – without judgment – what feelings arise for you and what sensations you notice in different parts of your body. Deep breathing can feel relaxing and calming when you are feeling stressed.
- Meditate/Sit Quietly – Taking time to quiet the mind, even if only for 5 to 15 minutes, is important. Place a “do not disturb” sign on the door, turn off the phone and tell your bedside nurse not to disturb you during this time, if possible. Meditating daily will calm your nervous system and will have a positive effect on calming your unborn baby’s nervous system as well.
- Pray – If you are spiritual or religious, praying can be a way to seek help or guidance and keep you in a positive frame of mind.
- Listen to Music – Find a CD specifically for calming your nervous system and listen to it daily, or multiple times per day. The Calm Birth or Calm Baby CDs are excellent resources. In addition, listen to music that makes you feel happy and joyful!
- Journal – Daily, write about your feelings in a journal, no matter what they might be. Also write down anything you are noticing about your baby. Journaling can give you insight and clarity during this difficult time.
- List Gratitudes – Bed rest can bring out the most negative feelings in women, and understandably so. List five things per day that you appreciate at that time and watch your perspective on your life change in positive ways. What you appreciate may be as simple as the warm socks you are wearing or as big as maintaining your current pregnancy.
- Open Your Blinds – Everybody needs natural sunlight! This will also assist you in tracking the days while you rest. It is great for your brain, body and mood.
- Stay Connected – Stay in close contact with family and friends through email, phone calls, and hospital/home visits. Join a moms’ group on the Internet, preferably comprised of women to whom you can relate. Just be aware of those people who bring you down, and try not to get caught up in another person’s negative experience.
- Read About Positive Outcomes – Read stories about women who were once in your similar situation but who experienced positive outcomes. Focus on those.
- Vision Board/ Goal Setting – Imagine the process of your pregnancy and outcome of your birth that you want to experience with your baby. Create a vision board that reflects this outcome, as well as your positive feelings. Cut out pictures and words from old magazines, glue them to poster board and hang it on your wall where you can view it daily. This will give you something positive to focus on and use for visualization exercises. You can also write down goals you want for your pregnancy, birth, and baby, and read and focus on those daily.
- Visualization – Athletes and others have used visualization, which is also supported by research, to promote positive outcomes for themselves. After viewing your vision board or goals, take a few moments, close your eyes and imagine what you want, AND feel it as if it were happening in that moment. Try to keep images as positive as possible, which can be very hard, depending on you or your baby’s medical situation. Even so, I encourage you to try this.
- Bring Home to the Hospital – Bring your favorite blanket or pajamas from home. Hang family photos or artwork created by your other children or family members, and place fresh flowers in your room. Fill your room with items that evoke happiness within you.
- Start a New Hobby – Learn something you have been thinking about studying or something you never thought you would want to learn. Start to knit, sew, needlepoint, draw, paint, do Sudoku or crossword puzzles, etc…
- Enlist Support of Others – When family and friends offer to visit or help you with tasks at home, say YES. If they don’t offer and you need help, ASK. It can be hard for some people to receive help from others, especially when they are unable to do much physically for themselves. Just remember that this is temporary. If you have no helpful support system, search the internet for moms’ online groups so you can connect and receive support while on bed rest. You will need this support after your baby is born, as well!
- Read – Read mindless novels that take you away to another world for a while. Read parenting books to begin learning what type of parent you want to be and how to bond with your baby.
- Limit Negative Television Viewing – It is easy to turn on the TV, but it can be hard to turn it off – especially when lying in bed all day. We are bombarded with negative programming and images through news and television shows, which can deeply affect an already vulnerable or depressed mom. Try to limit the amount of TV you watch or choose positive programming.
- Treat Yourself – Treat yourself to your favorite food or a relaxing cup of tea. Have someone bring homemade meals (approved by your doctor, if you are on a special diet) and enjoy.
- Take a Ride – If you are able to sit in a wheelchair, have a family member or a hospital staff member wheel you outside on a nice day, or around the building for a change of scenery.
- Share Feelings – Most importantly, talk to your partner, family, friends, nurse, doctor, or social worker. This is a difficult time and it is important to keep lines of communication open. Remember, these people want to help you, but they can’t truly know how you are feeling unless you tell them. Bottling your anger, sadness and fear can contribute to and exacerbate depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy and increase your risks of mental health issues postpartum.
Most of all, be gentle with yourself! This is a very hard and anxiety-filled time. Caring for yourself will be easier on some days than on others, so just do what you can in that moment or on that day. Attempt to take this time to rest your body and mind, bond with your baby, and focus on you and your precious baby’s health.
When to Obtain Professional Assistance
You may sometimes wonder if the feelings you are experiencing are “normal.” Lying in bed for days, weeks or months can be taxing and cause sadness and fear in most women. However, if you are experiencing insomnia, excessive crying, irrational fears, sleeping more than usual or if your doctor, nurse, and/or family member encourages you to seek professional counseling, you may want to ask for help. In addition, if you have a history of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, be proactive and seek professional assistance before these issues resurface or become worse. If you need help during this difficult time, please don’t delay contacting a psychotherapist who specializes in counseling women who are pregnant.
Why Obtain Professional Assistance?
By obtaining professional help when depressed or anxious during pregnancy, you will decrease the likelihood of mental health issues continuing postpartum. When these issues surface postpartum, they can interrupt bonding between mother and baby. Your baby depends on you to meet all of his/her basic needs and to help regulate his/her immature nervous system and emotions. You need to be in the best possible state of mental health to facilitate bonding and function as a calming presence for your baby.
Bed rest is challenging, to say the least, but with these tools and an individualized self-care plan in place, you can begin focusing on what really matters – the health of you and your baby- and feel empowered while on bed rest during your high-risk pregnancy.
Dawn K. Gibson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of Mindful Mothering in Austin, Texas. She specializes in counseling and coaching prenatal and postpartum women during baby’s first year. She currently works with clients individually and facilitates prenatal, postpartum, and NICU postpartum groups for women. For more information on Dawn and her services, please visit www.mindfulmotheringaustin.com or contact her directly at dawn [at] mindfulmotheringaustin [dot] com.
“I created Mindful Mothering out of my passion for helping women who are pregnant and/or already have babies and children. I seek to provide support, education, and counseling to women through the most exciting and sometimes unexpectedly stressful times of their lives-pregnancy and the first year postpartum.”