The last few weeks of pregnancy — and the first few after baby is born — are uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. Your hips hurt, your back hurts, you’ve likely got heartburn, and your belly is always in the way.
Then, when baby comes, your whole body feels it. And the pain does not go away overnight.
Historically, childbirth has been a dangerous time. That’s why, for centuries, doctors and healers have often recommended “lying in” toward the end of pregnancy or after the baby is born. But is it a good idea?
Lying in is sometimes called pre- or postpartum confinement. It’s a practice where a pregnant person limits their movement before and after birth in order to reduce the risk of pregnancy or postpartum complications, such as preterm labor or bleeding.
It often involves bed rest — spending the majority of your day in bed or stretched out on a couch. Sometimes, it might mean confinement to a bed in the hospital, hooked up to monitors.
Bed rest before the baby is born used to be prescribed quite regularly in Western medicine for people who had higher risk pregnancies.
Lying in after the baby is born is a cultural practice still embraced in parts of the world today.
In Chinese medicine, lying in is a tradition called
According to the tradition, new parents and their newborns would stay confined inside so their bodies could heal. They’d follow other rules too, such as no visitors, no washing, and dietary restrictions.
Zuo Yue Zi remains a popular practice in East and Southeast Asia today, as well as among immigrant communities in the United States.
For thousands of years, other cultures and countries around the world have had similar lying-in postpartum cultural practices to encourage healing and breastfeeding so the baby could survive (since formula didn’t yet exist).
In the United States, until the World Wars, it was customary for parents who gave birth to stay in a hospital bed for about a week after delivery. But for parents that could afford to lay in longer, it would often continue after they got home as well.
In general, lying in involves limiting your movements by staying in bed or seated most of the day.
From there, the rules vary. It’s rare today for full bed rest to be prescribed because of the risks (more on that below), but your doctor may recommend you spend more time resting and keeping your physical activity a little lighter, like going on short walks instead of strenuous activity.
Sitting the month in traditional Chinese culture involves staying at home, as well as following other rules, such as not:
- eating raw vegetables
- drinking cold water
- having sex
- climbing stairs
- having visitors
Probably not. Most experts suggest that strict bed rest does not prevent preterm labor or reduce preeclampsia risk.
However, doctors might still prescribe rest and reduced activity at home.
Asking you to schedule rest times or avoid certain kinds of strenuous activity could be beneficial in some cases. For example, bed rest might be prescribed if you have a problem with your placenta or cervix, or if you’re expecting multiple babies.
Postpartum, there’s also evidence that taking at least some time in the first 2 weeks to recuperate at home can help you heal and bond with your baby, potentially reducing postpartum depression. In other words, taking it easy on yourself and letting family and friends take care of you is a good thing.
It will take about 6 weeks, too, before your doctor will clear you for sexual activity.
But you should still get up and move around — including after a C-section — to reduce your risk of blood clots.
In short, yes. Especially if your lying in is strict (i.e., you spend more time being inactive than active).
When the World Wars shortened the amount of time that people stayed in the hospital after giving birth, it did lead to a decrease in cases of “Milk leg,” which was the name given to blood clots that started in the legs and often turned into clots that traveled to the lungs.
This makes sense: Blood clots are one of the most dangerous complications pre- and post-birth.
According to the
In fact, 2014 research suggests that the risk of blood clots remains for up to 12 weeks after having a baby, which could lead to heart attacks, stroke, or pulmonary embolisms. Exercise
In addition, lying in can raise your risk for other physical and mental health-related complications.
Bed rest before the baby is born may also pose real health risks, including blood clots, as well as:
- low birth weight in baby
- slower recovery after birth
- weakened bones and muscles
It can aggravate typical pregnancy symptoms too, like heartburn, constipation, and swelling — and increase your chances of gestational diabetes.
That’s why the
Taking it easy toward the end of your pregnancy and after baby is born can be a good idea — your body is going through a lot.
But in general, too much inactivity isn’t good for you. It can increase your chances of developing a blood clot and take a toll on your physical and mental health.
This is why full bed rest isn’t recommended much anymore, though your doctor might still tell you to rest when you can.