Bed rest after birth puts ethnic women at risk

Story: WSLHD Research and Education Network News

A new study shows the traditional cultural practice of extended bed rest after giving birth is putting many ethnic women in western Sydney at risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE), a potentially life threatening condition.

With 63 per cent speaking a language other than English at home, and 25 per cent originating from the Indian subcontinent, educating women about the risks of blood clots developing from lack of movement is critical, says Sarah Melov, a clinical midwife consultant at the Westmead Institute for Maternal and Fetal Medicine.

Ms Melov, and the Department of Surgery’s Associate Professor Kerry Hitos from Westmead Hospital, led the first study of its kind on culturally diverse women who practice traditional bed resting after taking their babies home.

Regardless of how long they had lived in Australia, many mothers still followed this cultural routine, the research found.

“Bed resting after birth is common for African, Indian, Chinese, Korean and Arabic women, who get live-in help, usually from their mother or mother-inlaw who may come from overseas,” Ms Melov says.

“However, staying in bed is one of the biggest risk factors for VTE, with a 22- fold increase of risk during the six to eight-week post-partum period.”

VTE is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in high income countries and occurs in 1.1 women per 1000 births.

Ms Melov recruited 100 Indian and 50 Chinese women, finding 85 per cent practised traditional rest. “When I conducted interviews six to eight weeks after they gave birth, I found 51 per cent had rested in bed as much as possible for the first 30 days, putting themselves at increased risk of VTE,” Ms Melov says.

She assessed movement through quantifiable activities such as cooking, cleaning and leaving the house.

Ms Melov found 47 per cent of women did no housework, 39 per cent did no cooking and 89 per cent had live-in help. One participant stated there was “cultural pressure from everybody to rest in bed . . . not allowed even in the yard” but many found relatives a great support.

“The belief is strongly embedded that if you rest properly, you will benefit all your life with better health,” she says. “The next step is raising awareness and promoting the message that women can still rest but do it safely by moving more.”

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