How to Stay Healthy on Bed Rest

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While going on bed rest during pregnancy might sound like the stuff of dreams when you're knee-deep in the busyness of life, the reality of these doctor's orders can be quite unpleasant for many pregnant women. Beyond the obvious boredom factor, lots of women worry that the inactivity of prolonged bed rest will make them gain extreme amounts of weight or lose muscle tone.

Though spending months in the prone position does present health challenges, it doesn't have to lead to excessive weight gain or the feeling that your limbs have turned to jelly. Here are seven ways to stay healthy while on bed rest. 

Maintaining Healthy Eating Habits

Understand Your Caloric Needs

Determining your daily calorie requirements is already a challenge when you’re pregnant, and going on bed rest can make this calculation even trickier.

“We have to account for the condition and nutritional changes as well as the fact that movement is now limited. But for most women, only a slight decrease in calories is needed—remember, you are still growing a baby!” —Ryann Kipping, RDN, CLEC.

If it’s practical in your situation, visit a dietitian who can help you set a target range for daily calories. Or make use of a calorie calculator that accounts for your height, weight, and activity level to get a sense of how much to eat each day. Once you’ve established a calorie goal, try using a food tracking app to keep your daily intake on track.

Use Easy Appliances and “Dump” Recipes

Depending on your doctor’s orders, you may have approval to be on your feet for a limited amount of time each day. You probably don’t want to spend it preparing an elaborate dinner.

Thankfully, convenient appliances like the Crock Pot and Instant Pot can cut down on prep time, especially if you use them to make so-called “dump” meals. These recipes are exactly what they sound like: dumping a variety of ingredients into a cooking appliance and letting the machine do the work.

“Dump meals are ideal for a mom-to-be on bed rest or modified bed rest,” says dietitian Yaffi Lvova, RDN, who specializes in pregnancy and post-natal nutrition. “There are all kinds of dump recipes on Pinterest, and I've always had good luck trying something new and basic.”

Search for dump recipes with a healthy base like beans, lean meats, tofu, or whole grains. And remember, a meal doesn’t have to look gorgeous to be tasty and good for you. At this point in your pregnancy, the goal is to provide yourself and your family with healthy, homemade meals. Insta-worthy can wait.

Love Your Leftovers

“Using leftovers in a delicious and satisfying way is a great way to reduce time on your feet,” says Lvova. Once you’ve decided on a simple Crock Pot meal or dump recipe, why not double it to extend healthy meals throughout the week? To minimize burnout on a single food, you might even get creative with your extras by repurposing them in novel ways.

“Turn leftover salmon into a salmon wrap with some hummus, spinach, and a tortilla or lavash,” Lvova suggests. “Leftover turkey? Cut it and add it to a prepackaged salad with a delicious dressing.”

Extra meats or veggies can also serve as a pre-made base for pizza, tacos, or casseroles.

Try a Grocery Delivery Service

Not everyone has family and friends who can step in to help when bed rest brings life to a screeching halt. In this case, it may be tempting to put your local fast food delivery on speed dial.

But there are far healthier options these days for home-delivered foods than gut-busting sausage pizza or sodium-packed Chinese food. Many grocery store chains now offer delivery for a low fee.

Consider signing up for one of these services while on bed rest. This way, you can stick to a list and ensure the health of the food that arrives at your door.

Mental Health

Ask for Healthy Help

When family and friends offer assistance, chances are, they genuinely want to do whatever will help you the most. So don’t be afraid to get specific with your requests.

When a family member offers to bring a meal, let them know you’d appreciate something healthy. If a friend volunteers to do your grocery shopping, provide them with a list of good-for-you items like fruits, vegetables, heart-healthy oils, whole grains, and seafood.

If the tedium of bed rest seems to cause or exacerbate mental health issues like anxiety or depression—which can fuel issues like over- or undereating—tell someone how you’re feeling. “If you are ever feeling out of control, reach out to someone for help—ideally a health professional or specialist,” says Kipping. 

Keep Your Mind Engaged

Preparing and consuming food fills up empty time, so it can be all too easy to eat simply to have something to do. Staying aware of real physical cues of hunger is key to prevent mindless eating on bed rest.

“It's important to ask yourself if you're hungry or just bored,” says Lvova. Before reaching for a snack, take a mindful moment to check in with your body and brain to assess your level of fullness.

When it seems boredom is the real culprit behind a desire to eat, shift your focus by engaging your mind elsewhere.

“Reading a good book or starting a new hobby that takes concentration and occupies the mind and the hands can help,” says Lvova. “Knitting, crocheting, sewing, or needlepoint can be great for helping relieve boredom during bed rest. If you've been interested in writing or painting, now is the time to try it out!” 

Physical Health

Do Some (Doctor-approved) Light Stretches

Bed rest obviously isn’t the time to start a new fitness regimen, but you may be surprised to learn that some gentle activity is often permissible (and even beneficial) during bed rest. While you’ll need to get the green light from your doctor before performing even the lightest of activities, there are likely some stretches you can do to prevent muscle loss. 

Since you may need to avoid overexerting your abdominal muscles, stretches and exercises that focus on other muscle groups are often your best bet.

“Learn how to engage different body parts. Think about your legs, quads, hamstrings and glutes,” says Tony Carvajal, Certified CrossFit Trainer, and RSP Nutrition athlete. “As you lay in bed, squeeze them as hard as you can for 5-10 seconds and relax them. You want to do this 10-15 times per major muscle group. This will remind your brain to turn these muscles on and make them engage. It will help with maintaining muscle while taking bed rest and recovering.” 

Other light exercises to try include shoulder and neck rolls, ankle or wrist circles, or supine twists. In addition to the physical benefits of activity, setting aside a time each day for exercise may help provide a sense of routine so lacking during bed rest.

A Word From Verywell

Being on bed rest can be difficult and frustrating at times. You're almost done with one of the most beautiful, yet challenging, periods of your life, and you're ready to meet your new family member. If you follow these tips and practice mindfulness during this final phase of pregnancy, you're sure to get through it without any issues.

By Sarah Garone
 Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a freelance health and wellness writer who runs a food blog.