Dr. Jean Irion discovered she was carrying triplets 12 years ago at the age of 37. At the time, Irion and her husband were already the parents of a 7 year-old and a nine year-old. The irony of the situation was inescapable: the couple had planned the pregnancy so that they wouldn't have to put three kids through college at the same time.
Irion, a University of South Alabama professor of physical therapy began having contractions in her 21st week of pregnancy. Her doctor gave her immediate orders to restrict her activity. She was supposed to do no work and sit most of the time. After this, she was required to be on bed rest for two months, during which time she was allowed to rise only to use the bathroom.
Until this time, Irion had been a dedicated walking freak. She felt her strong and healthy body begin to fall apart. She could feel her muscles wasting away, tightening up, while her heart and lungs were becoming weak and out of shape.
At long last, Irion gave birth to the triplets. During the postpartum period, her atrophied body couldn't cope with so many crying newborns and all their related paraphernalia. She developed tendonitis in both shoulders and one arm was affected by tennis elbow. “I was a mess,” said Irion. “No one had given me any hint of how incapacitating my bed rest would be.”
The experience led to a new focus for Irion who began to teach physical therapists to create safe exercise plans for women who find themselves pregnant and on bed rest. The need for this work is self-evident when one considers that 700,000 pregnant women go on bed rest every year. Most women carrying twins and multiples are placed on bed rest at some point in their pregnancies and with all the new fertility techniques, their numbers have had a sharp increase during the past two decades.
Dr. Raul Artal, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Louis University School of Medicine says that bed rest for women carrying twins and multiples is standard practice, though he admits that there is no hard evidence that this practice prevents preterm births. In fact, one Swedish study showed that twins were more likely to reach full term when their mothers were not restricted to bed rest.
But if you are restricted to bed rest, ask your doctor if you can lift light weights, such as a soup can or 2 lb. hand weights. This type of upper-body exercise can help you maintain a bit of strength and flexibility, giving you more range of motion for postpartum baby-care. Or attach a thick rubber band to your bedpost and use it to give you some resistance as you stretch your shoulders and arms.
Lower body exercise is crucial too, if you want to avoid blood clots. Do circles in the air with your ankles, bend your knees, and pull your ankles in toward your body. The idea here is not to prepare for a marathon, but to get your legs and arms ready to cope with the stresses of your newborn (s).
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