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Bed Rest May Double Health Risks for Pregnant Women

Update Date: May 14, 2013 02:35 PM EDT
Pregnant Women
Roughly six percent of pregnant women were prescribed narcotic painkillers during their first or second trimester. (Photo : REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)

For years, many women who have been expecting have been told by doctors, friends and family members to try bed rest. Limiting their movement was supposed to help lower the risk of premature birth. For years, doctors have known that bed rest may not actually lower this risk, but it was still seen as an intervention that could not hurt. However, a recent study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology has found that prescribing bed rest may actually hurt women and babies and can even double the risk of premature birth.

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The study was conducted among 657 women who were pregnant and who had an increasingly diagnosed condition called a short cervix. Because bed rest may not actually mean staying in bed all day, the women needed to answer questions about whether their doctors recommended that they restrict their movements. For example, some women were told to abstain from sex, some women were told to cut back or quit working altogether and some women were told to cut back on non-work activities. Some women were told to avoid all three things. In total, Reuters reports that 39 percent of the 646 women who answered the questionnaires were put on some form of bed rest.

In total, 37 percent of the women who were on bed rest gave birth prematurely. Of the women who were not told to cut back on their movements, 17 percent gave birth prematurely. That link remained true even when researchers controlled for age, race, medical history and ultrasounds.

The Associated Press reports that it may be possible that the women who were prescribed bed rest simply had an elevated risk of having a premature birth, for reasons that the researchers had not uncovered. However, bed rest has side effects as well that may cause health problems - bone loss, blood clots and elevated stress levels.

The researchers suggest that women who are prescribed bed rest should discuss with their doctors about whether their physicians have data to support their recommendation.

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