Pelvic Rest: So You've Been Told to Avoid Sexual Activity...

Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on July 28, 2016Written by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN on July 28, 2016

You may have heard the term bed rest during pregnancy, but what about pelvic rest?

If you have been prescribed pelvic rest during your pregnancy, you may be wondering what the term actually means. Read on to find out how to keep you and your baby safe and healthy, and what you should be on the lookout for until it's time for delivery.

What is pelvic rest?

Pelvic rest is a term to describe delaying putting anything into a woman's vagina during her pregnancy in order to prevent medical complications.

This includes abstaining from having sex, limiting any procedures like an obstetrical check for dilation, and possibly restricting any exercises that may strain the pelvic floor.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains that studies have not proven that refraining from sex actually works to help prevent pregnancy complications or preterm labor and premature birth. However, they still recommend pelvic rest in certain cases.

Why do some women require pelvic rest?

There are many different conditions during pregnancy that might require you to go on pelvic rest. Here are some examples.

Full placental previa

Placenta previa means that your placenta is positioned across the bottom of your cervix instead of on the side of your uterus. It can be a partial previa, meaning only part of the cervix is covered or completely covered, as in the case of a full placenta previa. This means that sexual intercourse may irritate the cervix and cause damage to the placenta, possibly causing bleeding or even putting you into labor. Women with full placenta previa will require a cesarean delivery.

Hernias

It's rare, but some women may have had a hernia before becoming pregnant or developed a hernia while pregnant. It may put them at higher risk for complications during their pregnancy, like preterm labor.

If the hernia is in a place where a woman is at risk for preterm labor, a doctor may recommend pelvic rest.

Cervical complications

Cervical complications can include a shortened cervix or an "incompetent" cervix, which is also sometimes called an insufficient cervix. Doctors aren't exactly sure how or why cervical insufficiency happens.

Cervical insufficiency can be especially dangerous. One of the classic symptoms is cervical dilation without regular contractions or pain. In other words, your cervix opens up like you're about to give birth without you even realizing it.

Because of that, it's important to adhere to pelvic rest if you doctor prescribes it. Also pay close attention to any signs or symptoms that you may be going into labor.

Being at risk for preterm labor

Again, while studies haven't proven that having sex can put a woman into labor or that any activity restriction is actually helpful for pregnant women, many doctors still place women who are at high risk for premature birth on pelvic rest, just in case.

How does pelvic rest affect pregnancy?

Being on pelvic rest doesn’t have to mean you can't do any physical activity during your pregnancy. Pelvic rest is different than bed rest, so you are still able to do all of your normal day-to-day activities. You just want to be careful to avoid having sex or placing any unnecessary strain in the pelvic area.

You can talk to your doctor about safe exercises you can do to maintain your health throughout your pregnancy.

When to call a doctor

If you are pregnant and on pelvic rest, you should call a doctor if you notice any symptoms, like:

  • fluid or bleeding from your vagina
  • premature contractions or back pain
  • if you have a cervical cerclage and you notice that the cerclage is no longer placed correctly
  • if you do have sex
  • if you suffer any accident or injury, such as falling or getting into a car accident

The takeaway

If you are placed on pelvic rest during your pregnancy, don’t panic. Most of the time pelvic rest is just a precaution and in some cases, the restriction is temporary.

Your doctor may only have you on pelvic rest for a short time. Be sure to talk to your doctor about how to continue to stay active and healthy during your pregnancy as well as what complications to look out for while you are on pelvic rest.

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