Mamas on bedrest who come together fare better

January 10th, 2011

I was sitting in church today and my pastor announced that they are going to start small group fellowships. The premise being that because our church has grown so large, we need to break out into more intimate groups to support one another more directly and from a place of intimate fellowship. He went on to say that Jesus and the 12 apostles were one of the first small groups ever and they accomplished much because they came together for a common purpose and then fanned out to do what needed to be done. In his final comments, he added,

“The dream that God has placed in your heart for your life you can’t do by yourself.”

This caught my attention. I just completed an application to participate at the Lamaze International Annual Conference in the fall and the crux (no pun intended) of my talk is that pregnant mothers thrive in community,  and that the isolation of bed rest is detrimental to a pregnant woman’s overall health.

I know that my pastor and I were talking about two very different things, but at the same time, we both reached the same conclusion. While I’m not even going to attempt to provide the rationale for his sermon (although he made several salient points) I can provide strong arguments for why the bed rest prescription, while beneficial for a small percentage of high risk pregnant women, is in general detrimental.

Let’s start with a bit of history. According to Wikipedia, The “rest cure” was first prescribed by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell as a treatment in the mid 19th century for nervous health disorders, primarily “hysteria” (which today we’d call depression). The rest cure consisted of isolation, confinement to bed, a specialized high fat diet and massage. Interestingly, women were more likely to be prescribed the rest cure or “take to the bed”. It was never proven to be effective and many of the patients who went on bed rest during this time either went insane or died.

Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in. Women were prescribed bed rest in the early 19th century for hysteria (depression) and it lead to insanity or death.  Since that time, Judith Maloni, PhD have shown that bed rest is not typically beneficial in prolonging pregnancy and has deleterious effects on both mother and baby.

Let’s fast forward to today. While many researchers have shown that bed rest is not beneficial to high risk pregnant mamas, few if any have recommended any sort of alternative-until now.

Cleopatra Abdou, PhD released data in July of 2010 showing that high risk pregnant women in “community” fared better than their isolated counterparts. Her research, “Communalism predicts prenatal affect, stress, and physiology better than ethnicity and socioeconomic status” (Cultural Diversity and  Ethnic Minority Psychology. 2010 Jul;16(3):395-403)  examined the relevance of communalism, operationalized as a cultural orientation emphasizing interdependence, to maternal prenatal emotional health and physiology and distinguished its effects from those of ethnicity and childhood and adult socioeconomic status (SES). She and her colleagues found that

“…communalism was a more robust predictor of prenatal emotional health than ethnicity, childhood SES, and adult SES. Communalism also interacted with ethnicity and SES, resulting in lower blood pressure during pregnancy for African American women and women who experienced socioeconomic disadvantage over the life course. The effects of communalism on prenatal affect, stress, and physiology were not explained by depressive symptoms at study entry, perceived availability of social support, self-esteem, optimism, mastery, nor pregnancy-specific factors, including whether the pregnancy was planned, whether the pregnancy was desired after conception, or how frequently the woman felt happy to be pregnant. This suggests that a communal cultural orientation benefits maternal prenatal emotional health and physiology over and above its links to better understood personal and social resources in addition to economic resources.”

In a nutshell, high risk pregnant women in community have better outcomes than women who are not exposed/don’t have access to community support (i.e. are on isolated bed rest) during their pregnancies. Additionally, women who are in a supportive community tend to go to term-or at least further in their pregnancies-than those women who don’t have community support.

So the task becomes, how can we increase community amongst Mamas on Bedrest? Thankfully today with the internet, there are many online forums and supports that women can access. Two of my favorites are KeepEmCookin.com and Better Bedrest.org. KeepEmCookin is an online forum where mamas on bed rest can share their stories and concerns with other mamas. Better Bedrest is a non-profit that offers one on one peer support along with microgrants to mamas in financial need.  I highly recommend either for mamas looking for support.

Additionally, if a mama is looking to take a hold of the reigns of her pregnancy, Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond now offers Coaching for Mamas on Bedrest which provided mamas with tools and resources to manage family, finances, health concerns and emotional concerns.

It’s interesting that something we women have known instinctively for eons has now been scientifically proven. It’s not healthy to ruminate or worry about your problems alone. They can destroy your physical and emotional health. Seek the support of one or many friends.

Maybe soon the medical community will catch on and we’ll finally be able to put bed rest, well, to bed.

To learn more about Coaching for Mamas on Bedrest, e-mail info@mamasonbedrest.com for a 30 minute Bedrest Break through Session.

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