Bed rest is the worst.
My wife, pregnant with twins, is on her second round of bed rest. We're in the midst of it right now - I'm writing this hospital bedside.
When you hear "bed rest", it may sound kinda blissful. "She gets to sit around all day and have people bring her everything? That sounds awesome. Sign me up," idiot you might think.
For expecting dads, you need to get it in your head right now that your wife absolutely does not want bed rest. She is hoping that baby/ those babies don't try leaving until the timer dings at 40+ weeks. If the baby tries to come out before it's time, things get much more complicated. It's like trying to keep an 8-year-old from flying down the steps to open Christmas presents. You can only fool them so long with "Let's wait til dad gets his coffee" before they bust out of the room anyway. And by room, I mean vagina. #analogy
Bed rest is the oft-prescribed medicine to slow down contractions and stop dilation from increasing. It's exactly like it sounds. You have to stay in bed nearly all the time except maybe to use the bathroom or shower, or an occasional walk down the hallway.
Bed rest is sometimes prescribed if your pregnant partner is experiencing any of these symptoms (Source: NIH):
High blood pressure
Premature or preterm changes in the cervix
Problems with the placenta
More than one baby
History of early birth or miscarriage
Your baby is not growing well
Your baby has medical problems
(Some dispute it for non-emergency situations; with twins, it seems to be much more common.)
In our case, my wife's cervix was dilated 2 cm and, on the next round, 3 cm. Check out the handy chart they put in the hospital room (3 cm is top row, third from left), as you are probably baffled what 3 cm means. The chart ranges from "Oh you're a little dilated" to "MY GOD A BABY IS EMERGING LIKE A BUTTERFLY."
Also, get used to people talking about your wife's cervix like it's a snow storm prediction in December. They won't understand how the prediction works, but they know it's what people are supposed talk about.
Bed rest is flat out difficult for moms. here's why.
Some of what your wife might experience on bed rest at home:
- Relying on others to let her pee.
- Not being able to get anything done that involves walking, driving, lifting, or standing for long periods. Assuming you've done any of those today, you can see how this would be a problem.
- Not getting to shower regularly.
- Not getting to play with your other kids or pets.
- Missing any events outside the house/hospital.
- Not feeling, you know... fresh air. For days. Or weeks. Or months.
That's why you can't underplay it. My wife has been on both hospital bed rest and home bed rest, and described it as such:
Let's Get Physical - What Bed Rest Feels Like
For fathers, we're fortunate to not have to deal with the physical side of things (Yes, yes, we know we don't have to deliver the baby, either. I didn't make the rules.) If she's on bed rest at home, it's all the aches and pains of pregnancy except you're stuck in one or two spots around the house without distractions to take your mind off of it.
But maybe she needs more monitoring. That means a hospital stay.
What kind of physical downsides are there with pregnant women on hospital bed rest?
- Soreness: If it's a hospital stay, you're dealing with a hospital bed not nearly as nice as the bed at home.
- Back pain: From being stuck in a hospital bed on top of being pregnant and not being able to move much.
- Contractions - Probably coming with the territory if you're on bed rest.
- Getting stuck with needles: Steroid shots (which burn going in) can be prescribed to help boost the baby's lungs. Lung development is a big concern with premature labor.
- Bruises/welts: From all the monitoring straps on her nonstop to check on contractions and the baby's heartbeat. You can see one monitor in the image at the top of this post checking on our twin's heartbeats!
- Lack of privacy: Get ready for people coming in the room all the time asking if your vagina is bleeding!
If her doctors give her magnesium sulfate (what my wife got) to settle contractions, it's like getting the flu all of a sudden for the major bolus of initial medication. Even after the dosage is lowered for the next 48 hours, it still doesn't feel too great (Source: My wife. She's a reliable source.).
Although each pregnancy is different, there's a good chance your wife is going to have at least some of those issues.
What dads need to handle with a wife on bed rest
Dads, I gotta say ... it's a tough one for you, too. The same as moms? Nope. But let's not undersell it. You need to prepare yourself. This can be tougher than you think if you go into it thinking it's just a minor inconvenience.
Here's what expectant dads can expect to do during bed rest:
- Running the house: Laundry. Dishes. Cleaning. Bills. Bedtime. Pets. Whatever gaps there are in what you did vs. what she did, you have to fill in the gap. That stuff still needs done, even if it's your last concern. The last thing you want is everything piling up, coming back with your newborn, and your wife having a mental breakdown when your "I took care of it" turns out to be "I forgot."
- Tip: Let's be honest - out of all the things on this list, I wanted to put the least energy into this because it doesn't directly impact my wife/kids. And I'm very fortunate my in-laws basically took over this part so I could more or less live at the hospital (they've been nothing less than superhuman). Not everyone has a family member who can just live at your house and make sure you have clean clothes to wear. But you may be able to find someone who volunteered to help who can take a task or two off your list. Things are going to get more cluttered, sure. Just don't let it get out of control!
- Double duty with kids: For us, the fact we have a toddler made the bed rest so much tougher. My wife couldn't pick him up or play with him, and while I consider myself an involved dad, it's a whole new level when you're basically on your own.
- Tip: Right off the bat, you need to decide how you're going to handle childcare. If your wife is a stay-at-home mom, that's a lot of hours to fill. This has to be the top priority to address - can someone live at your house while you're at work and watch your kid? Can you work from home some (I'm fortunate enough to be able to do that)? Can you afford to send them to daycare more often? This is the time to tap into all those "I'd LOVE to watch your kid" offers you've had over the years. People will step up - you'd be surprised. And don't rely on your wife to make all this happen. She has enough to worry about.
- Bonus tip: It's not just the childcare aspect of who's going to watch them. It's about not making it any harder on your kid than it has to be. We have an infant who loves a routine, and that routine went to hell. So we just came up with a new routine. Daycare then afternoon visit then home then dinner bedside at the hospital then bedtime. That's meant driving back and forth a bunch and a lot of help from his grandparents, but it's kept things consistent.
- Taking care of your wife: You can really shine here. Doctors and nurses are going to do everything they can to make sure she is healthy. You can do everything you can do make sure she's comfortable and isn't bored or going insane. This is going to be really tough on her. It might be one of the most incredible things my wife has done, frankly, because so much is being asked of her and she's pushing through it. This is that whole "sickness and health" thing you signed up for, right? Maybe this means you stay bedside each night and drive to work in the morning. Maybe you find ways to get her favorite meals. Maybe if she's at home, you take videos for her of your kids playing or set up Facetime chats with friends. Or you whip out some man skills and hook up a Roku in the bedroom so she can watch Netflix.
- Tip: If you've never been good at listening, this is the time to figure it out. Listen to what is bothering her. Listen to what she says she needs. And find a solution. That solution might just be listening, by the way! She's going to want to talk out her worries about the baby, because trust me, she's worried. You don't have to "solve" it (which is always my problem. I want to solve everything). You just need to listen.
- Bonus tip: There's a psychological toll with being put on bed rest. It's hard for doctors to tell you that your body isn't doing a great job of keeping the baby inside (not her fault, but it may feel to her like it is). If she gets short with you or seems up and down, keep in mind what she's dealing with. She's worried about the baby, about how long she's going to be on bed rest, and if the baby comes early, what that means about a NICU stay. Be sensitive to that.
- Exhaustion for everyone: Throw naps out the window. Picking up the slack elsewhere means you aren't going to have time to be well-rested, or, when you do have time to sleep, it may be in a hospital cot or at home but with lots of other things to take care of.
- Tip: Come to grips with the fact you're going to be tired, knowing your wife is even more exhausted (and at least your back isn't killing you and keeping you up). Instead, if you do feel worn out, it's OK to ask a friend to take over household or kid duties for an hour or two so you can go crash. When people ask to help, this is the kind of thing you need to take advantage of.
- Scheduling: Speaking of which, you'll probably have people come out of the woodwork to help. They'll want to make food, grab groceries, walk your dogs, or keep your wife company. This is not the time to be proud. You need help.
- Tip: You may need to take charge of coordinating who is doing what. You need to figure out what needs done, and start telling people what to do - they can't just guess, and if they want to help, you'd be an idiot to ignore it. Scheduling not your thing? Make one person in your family or a close friend the point person. But don't let the offers to help go by the wayside. When you have no food and laundry piling up everywhere because you're never home, you're going to wish you reached out.
- Bonus strategy: Helping your wife get proper rest is crucial. It can be seen counterintuitive, but being on bed rest doesn't mean she is necessarily sleeping great. I found a great resource that has everything you need to know to help your pregnant wife get a good night's sleep over at MomLovesBest.com. I highly recommend you check it out!
Why bed rest is all worth it
The upside? It's all meant to protect the baby, to add more time in the womb, and provide your kid with the best chance for a healthy start. It's the motivating factor and makes all the crap worth it.
Hard to argue with something if it's protecting your baby, right? Doesn't mean it won't suck for her.
But if she's on bed rest, that means it's a day the baby isn't in the NICU, & a day the baby is getting more time to develop their lungs and brains (critical in the 30-32 week range) so they can get better at breathing on their own and controlling their own temperature.
And you know what? You're going to be so prepared at being a father after taking care of so many things before your baby even arrives.
Use the confidence boost. You earned it.
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