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Babytalk by Katie Powers: How to handle bed rest during pregnancy

Q: I am pregnant with my first baby. My blood pressure is up. My doctor has told me that I need to be on complete bed rest. How will going to bed help my blood pressure?

A: When your blood pressure is up, your heart has to work harder to pump out blood to your body. It is believed that if you decrease your activity and increase your rest this will help your blood pressure come down.

Rest as a treatment for any illness can be traced back to Hippocrates. Hippocrates, from the 5th century B.C., wrote extensively on medicine, health and illness.

He wrote "Rest as soon as there is pain is a great restorative in all disturbances of the body." However, he also cautioned that too much rest can be hard on the body.

Astronauts in space experience prolonged periods of weightlessness. When you are on bed rest, your body reacts as if you have been in space orbiting earth.

The aerospace industry describes the changes that occur with prolonged weightlessness and prolonged bed rest as "cardiovascular deconditioning."

We now know because of research done by people in space that prolonged bed rest affects all of our systems.

When one is confined to bed, it affects your cardiovascular, muscle, metabolic, immune and psychological functions.

Bed rest is known to cause changes in the bone and muscle tissue. Muscle tissue will start to atrophy, which means waste away or become reduced. With permission from your doctor, ask if you can do some leg exercises while you are in bed. One simple exercise is to simply slide one leg up towards your buttocks, straighten it out, and then slide the other leg up.

If you are going to be in bed for longer than a week, ask your doctor about a referral to a physical therapist. They may be able to help you design a plan to minimize any wasting away of your muscles.

After laying down for a prolonged period of time, it is sometimes challenging for your cardiovascular system to adapt when you are sitting or standing. It is usually recommended that you lay on your left side when you are on bed rest. This helps promote good circulation of your blood.

Discuss with your doctor how long he would like you to sit up in a chair each day. When coming to an upright position, go slowly so you do not become dizzy.

Bed rest also affects people psychologically. Some women suffer from a condition called dysphoria. Dysphoria is an exaggerated feeling of depression and unrest.

It is quite common among women who are having a complicated pregnancy and also with mothers who have babies in the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit).

It is easy to feel alone and isolated when you are on bed rest, but your are not alone. Let friends and family know that you need help. Everything will be worth it when you hold that precious baby in your arms.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital's Family BirthPlace. Contact her at