Mamas on Bedrest: What is the best way to ease back into life after bed rest?

May 14th, 2012

Last week I received an e-mail from a former mama on bed rest, recently delivered, now resuming her life post partum. Her newborn is 7 1/2 weeks old and she also has a 2 1/2 year old. Almost immediately since delivering, she has thrown herself back into her “family routine” citing the need to restore normalcy for her older daughter and the need to “get back to her life.” Unfortunately, now she is exhausted as she is breastfeeding round the clock and notes she doesn’t have the strength she had pre-pregnancy.  She was on bed rest for 6 weeks. She e-mailed me asking what she can do to “regain her energy, strength and stamina”.

It’s a call (or e-mail) that I’ve come to know well. A former mama on bed rest has delivered and immediately throws herself full throttle into caring for her home and baby. Some mamas have even gone back to work full time within the six week window of post partum recuperation. They ignore (or are unaware of the fact) that their bodies have undergone a major transformation; not only have they developed and given birth to new human being, they have also been deconditioned in the process by being on bed rest.

What many women don’t know and what most obstetricians don’t tell women who have been on bed rest is that their bodies have undergone fundamental changes-changes in addition to their pregnancies. According to Judith Maloni, PhD,

Bed rest for as little as 14 days results in:

  • Muscle loss
  • Bone loss
  • Wt loss (and this can become problematic if the baby doesn’t gain weight as expected)
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Backaches
  • Depression
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lower Extremity Swelling/circulatory changes

Women, unaware of these physiologic changes who try to resume their pre-pregnancy levels of activity are at increased risk of injury. Many women in the early post partum have sustained back strains, perineal tears, hemorrhoids or hernias.

So what is the safest way to ease back into life after bed rest?

Begin Slowly. As previously stated, significant bone and muscle loss can result in as little as 14 days in addition to circulation and respiratory changes. If you have been on very strict bed rest for more than 60 days, chances are you are quite deconditioned and are at increased risk of injury if you push yourself. If at all possible, do very little in those initial post partum days. Simply walking around your hospital room or home will be sufficient. Your task now is to nurse and bond with your baby and gradually increase your strength.

Get Help. The United States is one of a very few countries that provides no support for new mamas and families. In Asian culture for example, the first 40 days post partum are considered sacred and called “The Golden Month”. Women from the community come and care for mama and her family so that mama does nothing but recuperate for an entire month after pregnancy, labor and delivery. Many countries provide nursing visits to new mamas and families to ensure that mama is recovering well, that breastfeeding is becoming well established and that the family is transitioning well. The fact that the US also has no universal paid family leave is another reason that many mamas rush back to work. But taking on too much too soon often does more harm than good, so if at all possible, get help.

Sleep. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many new mamas become sleep deprived early in post partum trying to recuperate, establish breastfeeding and resume tending to their family’s needs. Again, in the early post partum, it is imperative that mama get enough rest to allow her body to heal from pregnancy, labor and delivery and then establish healthy milk production and breastfeeding, then re-establish her health and strength to regain her baseline level of health. Get help with home chores and activities so that you can rest and regain your strength.

Nutrition. Many mamas tell me that they barely have time to eat during the day and find themselves grabbing meals on the go. This can lead to “mal” nutrition, i.e. eating lots of fast and/or processed foods which we know are often laden with fats, sugar and empty calories. Preparing meals can be difficult during this time. Again, get help. See  if a family member, neighbor or friend can help with grocery shopping and food preparation, preparing individual portions and readily (quickly) heated foods will help mama eat well and nourish her body back to health.

Exercise. One of the most common requests I get from mamas is “How do I get back into exercise?”  Mamas feel that since they’ve been “lying around” they need to get back to physical activity as soon as possible. Additionally, many mamas wish to regain their pre-pregnancy weight quickly. First and foremost, I remind mamas that it took 9 months for their bodies to grow and develop their babies, so they should allow at least 9 months to regain their pre-pregnancy bodies. Also, just as you wouldn’t start an obese person on marathon training, as a new mama coming off of bed rest, you too must start slowly. Walking Gets Mama into Shape After Bed Rest and 5 Tips to Enhance your Post Bedrest Post Partum Workout provide great information to get you started.

These 5 tips will surely get you started, but for more detailed or customized help, take advantage of our coaching programs. You can also ask questions at info@mamasonbedrest.com.

One response to “Mamas on Bedrest: What is the best way to ease back into life after bed rest?”

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