Light Exercise to Help you Through Bed Rest during Pregnancy

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about bed rest during pregnancy and exercises you can do while on bed rest

  • Is bed rest during pregnancy still recommended?

  • Why bed rest may be suggested during pregnancy

  • What exercises you can do if you are on bed rest

Good news: The latest recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) caution against the use of bed rest in preventing preterm birth due to lack of evidence that it is helps in this situation.1 In addition, ACOG suggests that it may cause more harm than good, including increased risk for blood clots, weakening of bones, and negative mental health implications.2

If your healthcare provider is suggesting bed rest, be sure to discuss all options for your situation thoroughly. There are specific instances where bed rest may still be needed.

Why would I need to go on bed rest during pregnancy?

Occasionally a doctor will still prescribe bed rest for certain pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure (preeclampsia), a weak (incompetent) cervix, preterm labor, premature rupture of membranes, placenta issues, or vaginal bleeding.3

The rationale being that resting in bed on your side will relieve cervical pressure and increase the odds for a healthy pregnancy.

How much bed rest will I need while pregnant?

Should bed rest be recommended for you, the amount your doctor recommends can range from intermittent to complete, depending on the severity of your condition. Intermittent bedrest might involve lying down on your left side a few times per day.

Complete bedrest typically involves being bed-ridden at a hospital, only getting up to use the bathroom.

Are there risks to bed rest during pregnancy?

Research is now indicating that the risks of long-term bed rest may out-weigh the benefits. And in fact, that bed rest may not be effective.2

Bed rest (and especially complete bed rest) can have negative physical effects, including muscle atrophy and weakness, as well as potential bone loss from your drastic reduction in movement and activity.2

The psychological impact of complete bed rest is also not to be ignored. Depression and increased anxiety can increase because of your separation from a support network, family, and work life (and possible impact on income).4 Additionally, the inability to engage in normal preparations for the baby (like setting up the nursery or attending the baby shower) can take a serious toll.

Have questions about nutrition during pregnancy or preparing to breastfeed? Reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET). Chat Now!

How to exercise and what exercises to do if you are prescribed bed rest during pregnancy

If your healthcare provider is suggesting bed rest, be sure to discuss your situation thoroughly, including other possible treatments and alternatives.

Getting started with bed rest exercises

Any physical activity (as long as your healthcare provider gives the OK) is important to help avoid the muscle loss, increased swelling, weight gain, constipation, and persistent feeling of sluggishness that can result from inactivity while on bed rest.5,6

Begin slowly, increasing repetitions gradually and be sure to periodically switch sides so you do not cause joint and muscle discomfort. Do only as much as feels good to you.

Start out doing light exercises once per day and slowly work up to 2 to 3 times per day, as long as your body is feeling good and your health care providers are on board with your program.

Avoid holding your breath while exercising

When exercising, try to avoid the Valsalva Maneuver, or holding your breath while contracting your muscles.7 It can create a lot of pressure on the uterus. To avoid this, simply remember to breath out during the exertion and inhale during the release.

Exercises and stretches you can do while on bed rest

Bed rest-yoga: stretch and flex your upper and lower extremities

Knee bends: Bend and straighten each leg several times per day. Alternate between flexing and pointing your toes.

Arm raises: Inhale and bring your arms over your head; exhale and bring your arms back to your sides. Repeat for a total of 10 times.

Elbow bends: Extend your right arm straight up above your head and then bend the right elbow. With your left hand, press down on the right elbow to increase the stretch. Repeat on the other side.

Neck rolls: Gently roll your neck in each direction to release tension and maintain range of motion.

Shoulder rolls: Roll your shoulders forward for 3 rotations and then back for 3 rotations to release muscle tightness.

Piriformis stretch: Place your right ankle over your bent left knee and pull your left knee towards your abdomen for a nice stretch. Hold for 10 seconds before switching to the other side.

Arm and leg extensions: Extend your right arm and left leg and move them in small circles for 30 seconds. Repeat with the left arm and right leg.

Wrist and ankle rotations: Extend your right arm and left leg and rotate your right wrist and left ankle for 30 seconds to increase circulation. Repeat with the left arm and right leg.

Quad stretch: Bend your right knee and grab your right ankle to stretch your right quads. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Isometric Exercises: Periodically squeeze a stress ball in your hands throughout the day. You can also tense your arm and leg muscles for 30 seconds and then release.

Pelvic floor exercises or “Kegels”: Squeeze and release the pelvic floor muscles with your breath in a repetitive, rhythmic pulse. For example, squeeze for 1-2 seconds on your exhale, then release for 1-2 seconds as you inhale. Repeat with the next breath.

Another variation is to squeeze and hold for 10 seconds and then release for 10 seconds. Try doing 5 of each type for a total of 30 pelvic floor muscle squeezes per day.

Maintain a nourishing diet

Eat a healthy, high-fiber diet and stay hydrated while in bed to prevent excess weight gain and constipation.

You may be tempted to snack on junk food to treat yourself during bed rest boredom, but make sure these are your ‘sometimes’ foods rather than your ‘all the time’ foods. Instead, reach for veggies, fruits, whole grains, and adequate protein intake to help you and your baby get the nutrients you need.

Read more:

How Much Should I Eat while Pregnant?

Which Nutrients do I Need during Pregnancy?

6 Tips to Help Manage Prenatal and Postpartum Constipation

Keep your eye on the prize

It is normal to feel disappointment, stress, boredom, and resentment while on bed rest, but remember the great reward at the end of this journey – each day you are getting closer to holding your baby in your arms!

Notice your baby’s movements and stay connected to their activity and growth. Let these positive feelings for your baby overshadow any negative reaction to bedrest. Know that your efforts are helping your baby get off to a healthy start.

Know that reaching out to mental health professionals can be extremely helpful. They can help you talk through your emotions and situation and give your strategies to help you manage your mental health.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Preparing to Breastfeed

Picky Eating: Taste Imprinting during Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Dealing with the Physical Discomforts of Pregnancy

How to Manage Pregnancy Discomforts that Affect Your Sleep

How to Manage Heartburn during Pregnancy

Pumping for a Baby in the NICU