How I Stayed Sane While on Bedrest in a Costa Rican Hospital
I was full-term, 39 weeks pregnant, when my OB-GYN sent me to the hospital unexpectedly to monitor my baby's heart rate—it was much lower than usual, and after learning as much, my blood pressure skyrocketed as well.
As a result, my doctor wanted to make sure that both of us were ok. What my doctor, husband and I assumed would be a quick hospital admittance, followed by a quick induction and a quick introduction of our new baby to the family… did not go as planned.
As an expat living in Costa Rica, things are done a little differently here, and once it was determined my baby and I were fine (thank goodness), the doctors decided it would still be best to admit me to the hospital and monitor me until my baby arrived.
Long story short, I ended up on hospital bed rest for a full week before having a non-emergency (but medically necessary) C-section. So, when I say pregnancy bed rest isn't a whole lot of fun, I'm speaking from experience. But I'm also speaking from experience when I say it's not the worst thing.
So if you end up getting bed rest orders, don't panic—here's how to make the most of it.
Why you might end up on bed rest
First, the good news: based on current research, doctors rarely prescribe total bed rest. "For the most part, bed rest means that you should spend part of your day avoiding physical activity and resting in bed," explained Brittany Robles, OB-GYN and NASM-certified personal trainer who runs the website Postpartum Trainer, MD.
"As of right now, there's no data showing any benefit of complete bed rest, where almost all forms of activity are decreased," Robles continued. Rather, today's "bed rest" is typically prescribed as a reduction of strenuous activities, including not doing any heavy lifting, intense workouts or more taxing household chores.
That said, if your doctor deems your pregnancy a little more precarious, you might find yourself on some sort of more strict "bed rest." For instance, Robles points to pregnancies of multiples where the mom is experiencing premature contractions, women who have short cervixes and have preterm cervical dilation, or those who've been diagnosed with placenta previa and are experiencing bleeding as situations where bed rest might be considered appropriate.
Understanding your restrictions
Because complete bed rest is rarely considered medically necessary, and because every pregnancy is different, it's important to get the details from your doctor on your specific situation. Robles stated it clearly: "Ask your doctor what they are comfortable with you doing."
Doing too much may be risky, but doing too little may not do you any favors, either. So if your doctor tells you you need to take it easy, ask exactly what you can or can't do.
For instance, in her book Pea in a Pod (third edition, Square One Publishers, 2021), Linda Goldberg, a lactation consultant and retired nurse, provides the following list of questions to ask your doctor (used here with permission from the publisher):
- How many hours a day must I lie down? How much walking/standing can I do?
- Can I get up to go to the bathroom or to take a shower?
- Can I drive a car?
- Do I need to quit work or reduce my hours?
- Can I lift anything?
- Can I perform any exercises while I am in bed?
- Can I continue to have sex?
- Can I do any household chores?
It's also important to ask how long your restrictions need to be followed. Goldberg adds in her book that many people only have restrictions for a few days, while others may have to stay mostly immobile for weeks.
The challenge, of course, is that limited mobility during pregnancy (or any time) can result in negative outcomes. For instance, you may lose muscle tone, experience isolation that leads to depressive symptoms, or experience more—or more rapid—weight gain. The potential for developing blood clots is also a serious and important concern with prolonged immobility, particularly in pregnancy which is already a hypercoagulable state.
Staying healthy and in good spirits while resting
Because bed rest has the potential to result in negative effects, it's important to take control of the time you spend resting. For me, this meant taking advantage of every activity I was deemed safe to perform.
"If cleared by your doctor, it's always beneficial to walk," Robles advised. "Walking will help maintain some muscle tone in the lower body, promote circulation, and improve your aerobic capacity. Start off nice and slow and listen to your body."
She added you should focus on eating healthy foods in amounts that align with your activity level: "Since your activity has decreased, you won't be burning as many calories as before. It's important to monitor your food intake. Over-consuming calories can lead to excessive weight gain which is never good for the pregnancy."
Goldberg's book, likewise, suggests you continue doing the things you're cleared to perform. "You may not be able to do housework or other strenuous activities, but you can still fold the laundry or pay the bills," she said, adding that this is the perfect time to strengthen bonds with your support system.
For many women, the career disruptions and financial strain that follows can significantly contribute to the stress of bedrest. Maintaining even a part-time job or freelance assignments can help bedrest feel a little more normal.
"Don't refuse offers from friends and family who want to bring you food, run errands for you, or just want to pay you a visit," Goldberg said. These visits can help lift your spirits and keep your social life positive when you may otherwise be feeling anxious or frustrated about the situation.
Other practical suggestions provided in Pea in a Pod include:
- Start a craft project, like embroidery or knitting
- Watch movies, or read books and magazines
- Listen to new podcasts
- Shop online for nursery items and have friends help you set up the nursery
- Research healthy meals and recipes, create grocery lists and order your groceries to be delivered
- Arrange for in-home massages, hair appointments or manicure/pedicures
- Begin writing a journal for your baby
- Start a baby book for your baby
In my case, since I knew I was very close to my due date, I tried to remind myself that this might be the last time for a while that I'd have the opportunity for full nights of sleep and mid-afternoon naps. I spent time catching up with friends and family members I hadn't talked to recently, and I read articles on pregnancy and adjusting to life with a newborn. Finally, because the situation was stressful, I tried to distract myself by listening to comedy podcasts and pacing the hospital hallways when the doctors would allow it.
Even though a full week in a hospital bed wasn't part of my pregnancy plan, it passed surprisingly quickly and resulted in a healthy birth (and that's the most important thing, right?). Was it boring? Absolutely. Did I love it? Not at all. But would I do it again if necessary? Without a doubt.