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Looking for ideas of what to do on bed rest? Below you’ll find ideas of things to do on bed rest and tips from my experience on activity restriction during two pregnancies. Bed rest is isolating, scary and, let’s be real, boring. I hope my experience can help make your bedridden time a little more bearable.
I remember so vividly how my first OB told me she was putting me on bed rest. I had just finished an ultrasound that showed my cervix had funneled in a scary way. As we walked into her office she said, “what do you do outside the home? Because you don’t anymore.”
I had actually become bed-bound with my first pregnancy shortly after seeing the two little lines on a pregnancy test. I suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum when pregnant — a disabling condition where your nausea and vomiting is so severe you can’t live normally — and was too sick to leave bed (read more about my hyperemesis experience).
So when I was formally put on modified bed rest at 23 weeks for cervical incompetence, I had already been stuck in bed for months. In total, I spent nearly 8 months on bed rest with my first pregnancy, curled up under a window on our couch.
And then I did it again for a second hyperemesis pregnancy — though thankfully a cerclage got me to my third trimester before I started having cervical issues in round two.
I know how jarring it is to suddenly be homebound. My world felt small and my anxiety felt great; the focus of each day was to make it through without a medical catastrophe.
Thankfully both our babies were born healthy, but that doesn’t make the bed rest experience any less traumatic. I mourned the person I was before my activity restrictions. I struggled to figure out what to do on bed rest and struggled to figure out my new identity as basically-an-incubator (and a terrible incubator at that).
Plus, the social isolation and bed rest boredom is so real! I cancelled on parties, skipped going to restaurants, and gave away hard-earned Hamilton tickets. I even missed my sister’s wedding in Italy.
So, what do you do with endless hours on activity restriction, in one room, when you don’t feel well either mentally or physically?
Below you’ll find the list of things to do when on bed rest. It includes advice for finding some peace with the experience, activities for bed rest boredom, and tips for reentry into the world after bed rest.
Honestly, in the moment, bed rest was miserable but I now can look back with some fondness on the simplicity of my life on the couch. I hope these ideas for what to do on bed rest help you find a little enjoyment as you sit with the idleness and disquiet of bed rest.
Table of Contents
What is bed rest or activity restriction?
Below you’ll find a brief overview of bed rest to give context for this article. It is not meant as medical advice and is not an exhaustive explanation of bed rest because bed rest recommendations are very individual. If you’d like more information on what bed rest is, this article from the Cleveland Clinic provides a solid overview.
Bed rest is a pregnancy intervention where a doctor recommends you stay in bed or limit activity. It is sometimes alternatively called activity restriction. The level of activity restriction and length of bed rest varies by patient and condition. The general idea of bed rest is that it reduces bodily stress and reduces the pressure put on the cervix.
This is done in response to pregnancy complications like preeclampsia or to reduce the risk of pre-term labor. You may find yourself on bed rest with cervical incompetence, placenta previa, preeclampsia, threatened pre-term labor, etc.
I was personally put on modified bed rest, where I was allowed to do simple, short activities like walk around the house, prepare a quick plate of food or shower. My OB told me she wanted me moving just enough to mitigate risks such as blood clots but lying down as much as possible. As I got closer to term, I was slowly allowed more light activity like sitting at a restaurant.
Some people are put on hospital bed rest where you stay in the hospital for a period of time, or complete bed rest where you stay in bed as much as possible. Each person will have different activity restriction recommendations made in consultation with their doctor.
Challenges of bed rest
Bed rest has come under criticism in recent years since the results of numerous research studies have not found it to improve outcomes. This NPR article is a good primer on the lack of evidence on activity restriction.
Some argue that without good evidence, there is not enough justification given the possible negative impacts of bed rest. Some bed rest risks and challenges include:
- Medical complications, like blood clot risk and muscle waste
- Economic challenges if work is impacted
- Family challenges, especially if there are other children in the home
- Emotional challenges from isolation, fear and boredom
Yet many women still have bed rest recommended to them, myself included. My OB actually acknowledged the lack of data when she put me on bed rest but said that keeping weight and gravity from pushing on my failing cervix made sense.
Her rationale about pressure on my cervix made sense to me too. And, I was happy to do it because there wasn’t anything else I could do to prevent pre-term labor. It gave me a way to help and a purpose at a time when things were very scary and out of my control.
Top 8 things to do on bed rest
Before we dive into a list of bed rest activities, I want to first go over the most helpful things I did while on bed rest. To me, these helped me keep focus and find some peace during my bed rest.
1. Focus on the greater purpose
One thing that kept me from feeling useless was constantly reminding myself that sitting on the couch was a purposeful act.
As I browsed weird subreddits and turned on my third rock-climbing documentary of the day, I was actually doing something huge – I was keeping someone else safe and alive.
I tried to revel in the unique opportunity to feel guilt-free about hours of mindless internet; every hour I spent on Instagram was really a very productive act for my baby. Relish in the free pass as you scroll on your phone.
2. Don’t hang out where you sleep
Save the occasional nap, I did not spend time in my bed during the day for two reasons.
First, it helped create a delineation between night and day, and helped me keep a sense of time. And second, it kept my bed and bedroom associated only with sleep and rest.
If you have the space, take to your couch and get out of bed.
3. Get dressed every day
Similarly, I changed out of my sleep clothes each morning even though I was not going anywhere or seeing anyone.
Sure, I changed into other soft clothes that were essentially day-pajamas, but the simple act of putting on a new shirt and pretending I was a real person made me feel more human.
Fake it until you make it.
4. Connect with friends virtually
Online connections buoyed me during bed rest. As I’ve said since leaving college, my friends live in my phone and it was never more true than during bed rest.
Bring back FaceTime happy hours and phone calls. Spend your day texting friends.
5. Find online communities
In addition to connecting with friends, I also highly recommend anonymous online exchanges. I searched out other bed-rest girls in deep corners of the internet.
Other women’s pregnancy stories made me feel understood and less alone, and I cannot recommend them enough.
So while I may have physically been on alone on my couch, mentally I was connected to vibrant online communities, like those found on lovely women-majority subreddits (highly recommend the monthly due date bumpers groups), facebook groups and blog comment sections.
6. Work on your baby registry
I found a lot of comfort researching baby gear while on bed rest. There was a huge and unknown life change barreling towards us and finding the right gear felt like the only way I could prepare for it.
It gave me something that felt productive. And more importantly, it afforded me a way to revel in the pregnancy experience from bed.
Bed rest had taken away so many little pregnancy experiences, like old ladies making sweet comments at the grocery store or strangers giving you their bus seat.
If I couldn’t be publicly pregnant, at least I could research the hell out of car seats.
We didn’t even have a baby shower but I made an Amazon baby registry for the completion discounts and a welcome box. Amazon will send you a free box of baby swag and give you 15% off things on your registry as you approach your due date for setting up a registry with them. You can set up a registry here.
7. Read a book or listen to audio books
So many people want to read more books but never make the time to do it. Bed rest gives you endless time to catch up on all those books you said you’d read but never have.
Reading feels more productive and less brain melting than scrolling on your phone all day.
I also really liked listening to audio books. It was a change of pace and mentally less taxing. Plus, if you are experiencing morning sickness, screens may exacerbate your nausea — I couldn’t look at my phone or laptop screens for at least the first trimester with both my pregnancies.
8. Lean into comforts
The worst part of bed rest is the constant, quiet understanding that you are teetering on the edge of a medical tragedy.
Is your baby okay? Is your body about to betray you?
When you’re stuck at home, you have a lot of time to think about looming catastrophe.
I don’t know what will quiet those anxieties for you, but when you find something that helps, lean into it. It is okay to “waste time” if it helps you cope with your current situation.
Play phone games. Rewatch 30 Rock for the 4th time. Read a lot of blogs.
Prepare to go through a lot of mindless distractions, especially if your bed rest horizon in long. There are going to be bad days and it’s okay to lean on a lot of screen time to get through it.
If you need some ideas from my bed rest, I recommend: The Good Wife, niche women’s finance subreddits and the Netflix’s documentary ‘Tig’ (the resilience, the humor, the love story – it’s just too good).
Activities to do on bed rest
Now let’s turn to a list of lots of activities that you can do on bed rest to help pass the time. The list is broken up by sections such as baby-themed things to do on bed rest, ideas to make a little money, and crafts.
Baby things to do while on bed rest
First up are some baby-related things you can do while on bed rest. Doing baby projects is a great way to relish in the pregnancy moment, especially when it’s gone a little off course.
- GET ON DAYCARE WAITLISTS: seriously, the earlier you get on daycare lists the better because childcare options can be scarce and expensive (here’s a primer on the current childcare shortage from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
- RESEARCH 529 ACCOUNTS: it is great to set up 529 accounts before the baby comes so people can gift to it if they wish. Check out my list of 529 account pros and cons.
- FIND A BABY NAME: is there a more important task when pregnant than naming a human? Check out some of my baby name lists for ideas. I also spent many hours reading r/namenerds and namerology.com on my name hunt.
- DESIGN A NURSERY: this is another way to reclaim a quintessential pregnancy experience while stuck in bed.
- PLAN A BABY SHOWER: if you’re on activity restriction, your baby shower may have to look different and it is okay to be a part of that planning process.
Productive things to do on bed rest
A big problem I had on bed rest was feeling like an unproductive blob. Here are some ideas of projects you can work on while on bed to feel a little more productive.
- WORK ON A BUDGET: babies change your family budget so bed rest is a great time to update it. You can check out some of my monthly baby expense reports to get an example of baby costs.
- DO AN ONLINE COURSE: you can find pretty much any course you can think of for free on edX or Coursera.
- LEARN A NEW SKILL: I still regret that I didn’t learn coding with all those hours stuck at home.
- TACKLE A PROJECT: Marie Kondo your files, make a scrapbook, or start a baby book.
- ORGANIZE YOUR PHOTOS: do it before the onslaught of thousands of baby pictures that you are 100% going to take.
- WRITE YOUR LOCAL POLITICIANS: order a pack of postcards (like these women in science ones) and let your representatives know about the issues you care about.
- HELP VOTER TURNOUT: I’ve volunteered to write letters with VoteForward.org, where you send letters to people to encourage them to vote.
- JOIN AN ADVOCACY OR FUNDRAISING CAUSE ONLINE: find a cause close to your heart and look for virtual ways to get involved.
- LEARN A LANGUAGE: download the free Duolingo app and finally work on your Spanish.
Baby-themed books to read
Next up is a list of great pregnancy- and baby-themed books to read.
- EXPECTING BETTER: Expecting Better is Emily Oster’s first book that arms pregnant people with the data they need to make informed pregnancy decisions for themselves. It is a great read and I highly recommend it.
- CRIBSHEET: Cribsheet is essentially a sequal to Expecting Better that covers topics on babies and toddlers. It gives a run down of the data on things like daycare philosophies, co-sleeping, and baby-led weaning.
- BABY NAME WIZARD: Baby Name Wizard is my favorite baby name book. It isn’t just a list of baby names, but instead looks at style, trends and data to help you find baby names.
- ARRIVAL STORIES: a friend gifted me Arrival Stories and it was a lovely collection of diverse birth stories (from an albeit mostly privileged group of women like Amy Schumer and Serena Williams).
- WELCOME TO THE CLUB: Welcome to the Club is a cheeky book about 100 humorous baby milestones experienced by new parents.
- THE FIFTH TRIMESTER: The Fifth Trimester helps women prepare for the transition back to work after a baby.
Ways to make money while pregnant on bed rest
Sadly, many women face income loss when put on bed rest. Here are some ideas of ways to make a little extra money while you’re stuck on bed rest.
- RESEARCH STUDIES: there are lots of research study opportunities for pregnant people. You can search for them online but I also found that my social media ads started suggesting them as soon as the algorithm caught on to my pregnancy.
- ONLINE SURVEYS: online surveys are also available outside of science studies. Companies also run surveys and focus groups that can be done remotely for compensation.
- USER EXPERIENCE PANELS: join user & customer experience panels and focus groups. One place you can check out for opportunities is Nielsen.
- SECRET SHOP: not all secret shop jobs require you to go to a store in person. There are secret shopping jobs that you can conduct by phone or jobs evaluating delivery services. Check out my guide to secret shopping to get started.
- BLOG: blogging is a longer-term project if you enjoy writing. People make money blogging from display ads and affiliate marketing.
- SELL ON ETSY: you could create digital products like invitations or calendars, make jewelry, sew or design t-shirts.
- MAKE PHOTO EDITING PRESETS: if you’re great at photo editing, you can also sell presets on Etsy.
- BE A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT: with so much business happening online, there are many different types of virtual assistant jobs. You can find a good overview on starting as a VA here.
Crafts to do on activity restriction
Creative activities are a soothing way to help with bed rest boredom. Plus, you can use crafts as nursery decorations or sell them on Etsy, so they can also feel like a productive use of time.
- KNIT: This learn-to-knit kit will teach you to make a scarf, glove and small stuffed animal.
- CROCHET: Or, you could learn to crochet; this crochet kit teaches you to make a cute stuffed elephant for your future baby.
- CROSS-STITCH: you could also do cross-stitch pieces for your nursery. This mountain set is particularly cool looking.
- SCRAPBOOK: scrapbooks are a nice way to share family memories once your baby becomes a toddler.
- MODELING CLAY: make beads, jewelry or art with modeling clay like sculpey that bake in your oven.
- COLOR: many people find adult color books soothing. A friend gifted us parent-themed coloring books during my first pregnancy.
- ORIGAMI: Origami can be a very relaxing craft activity for bed rest. You can find a starter origami kit here.
Self-care activities for bed rest boredom
Finally, here are some self-care activities to help your mental state on bed rest. Bed rest may be some of the last quiet time you have before the newborn whirlwind. Don’t forget to take some of that time to focus on you and the things you enjoy.
- JOIN AN ONLINE PERINATAL SUPPORT GROUP: I cannot recommend online prenatal and postpartum support groups enough. My monthly hyperemesis support group has been one of the best things I’ve done. Postpartum Support International offers a ton of different virtual groups, you can find the list here.
- MEDITATE: if you’ve never meditated before, check out an app like Headspace.
- ACCEPT HELP: this is a biggie — accept help if it is offered. People genuinely want to help. Don’t be afraid to suggest a friend vacuums while they visit or bring along dinner. Many of your loved ones likely want to help but not know what to offer, so have a list of simple cleaning or house projects ready to suggest to them.
- INVITE FRIENDS OVER: we hosted a lot of couch hang outs while I was on bed rest the first time (and outside hangs during my pandemic pregnancy).
- PODCASTS: podcasts are a great way to take a screen break. Check out the Birth Hour for a pregnancy-themed listen.
- DO CROSSWORD PUZZLES: they’re mentally stimulating and calming.
- TAKE A NAP: seriously, I regret every nap I didn’t take before the newborn stage.
- LEARN NEW HAIR STYLES: I wish I knew how to do braids so I could look somewhat pulled together (when in reality I’m unshowered and covered in toddler stickiness).
Conclusion: what to do at the end of bed rest
Reemerging into the world after bed rest is wonderful. But listen, mentally prepare for it feeling a little complicated too. Not unlike the reverse culture shock experience by returning study abroad students, my re-entry back into real life after bed rest was sweet but challenging.
Bed rest makes you straddle two contradictory worlds: in one you are captive, and in the other you are freed from your daily expectations.
I had spent so long envisioning how wonderful it would be free after pregnancy. I wrote bucket lists and referred to my future postpartum period as my rumspringa. And then I got smacked in the face by reality because coming off bed rest was hard.
I dreamed of afternoon tacos and mezcal flights with a newborn strapped to me like an accessory. What I got was physical therapy and a lot of inner work finding my ‘regular person’ identity again after months of being a ‘sick person.’
If I could do it again, the best thing I could have done during bed rest was start with a therapist earlier. When I was in survival mode of the pregnancy, I didn’t recognize the trauma of my medical complications and bed rest experience. It was only after it ended that the emotions truly started bubbling up.
So look fondly towards the future when you’ll re-emerge into the world after bed rest, but with an eye to the fact that you don’t know how you’ll feel or what you’ll see when you cross the finish line. As with any pregnancy, we have no frame of reference for how our lives are possibly changing until after birth.
The days feel long but I promise it passes faster than it feels. Living through a period of home confinement grew my appreciation for simple acts of living. I found new joy in moving through the world without complication.
A haircut wasn’t just a haircut, it was a triumph.
So as you sit with your bed rest, take a moment to focus on the coziness of making our world small, a simplicity that you’ll likely not achieve again.