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Breaking the Bank for Bed Rest

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Written by Amie Newman for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Bed rest.

It sounds vaguely Victorian, doesn’t it? Confined to one's bed, suffering from an incurable physical ailment of days long gone. Bed rest is the catch-all term we still use to describe the order given to pregnant women, by physicians or midwives, who are in some danger of a preterm birth and so must spend their pregnancy off their feet.

"I think of it as house arrest," Mary Murry, CNM, RN with the Mayo Clinic tells RH Reality Check. "You don't have to be in bed all of the time but you can't be going out and about either."

If this sounds like a woefully incomplete medical description, it is. There is no universally agreed-upon “definition” of bed rest even while 1 in 5 women in the United States will be placed on bed rest at some point, and for various lengths of time, during pregnancy. Some women are prescribed bed rest for only a few days while others spend significant periods of time supine, at home, or in a hospital, literally confined to home for weeks or months. For most working families, especially those in the lowest income levels, living paycheck to paycheck, taking even a day away from work seems impossible – but a week, a month, several months? Why is it, then, that the U.S. offers the most threadbare of safety nets for pregnant and new mothers who, by medical necessity, must frequently refrain from working to care for themselves and, after childbirth, a baby who may be in need of extensive medical care? In the richest country in the world, it’s shocking how limited our support is for pregnant and new mothers and their families. For mothers who have been on bed rest and become leaders in the fight to secure more and better resources, this is not only a health care issue it’s a women’s rights issue.

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