Restless Leg Syndrome During Pregnancy

Restless Leg Syndrome During Pregnancy

Restless Leg Syndrome

Have you been diagnosed with restless leg syndrome, or do you suspect you might have it?

Even if you had restless leg syndrome before pregnancy, what you’re about to read can help you to get fast relief.

When they become pregnant, most women anticipate the usual symptoms: morning sickness, backache, and a constant need to pee.

But what you might not know is you could also develop a condition called restless leg syndrome (RLS), which can severely affect your ability to sleep.

Restless leg syndrome occurs in about 26% of pregnant women and is characterised by a crawling, tingling, itchy feeling in their legs, particularly when they are resting.

To relieve the sensation, they often have an overwhelming urge to move their legs. The feeling can subside after the movement but comes back again.

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

Nutritionist and naturopath, Ross Walter, says that restless legs are mostly a result of deficiencies in some common nutrients.

In most people affected, it’s a magnesium deficiency, but for others, it may be due to low calcium.

Ross finds restless legs will disappear quickly with magnesium and or calcium supplements.

“Low magnesium can result in tight muscles and muscle spasms, which are typical for pregnant women. A lot of their nutrients go to the baby as the priority. So if the woman’s diet is not sufficient in some vitamins or minerals, the baby will be fine, but the woman may have symptoms. That’s why it’s so common in pregnant women”, says Ross.

Another theory is that iron deficiency can trigger some cases of RLS.

Iron levels naturally drop during pregnancy. A deficiency can disrupt the levels of dopamine – a brain neurotransmitter that controls muscle activity and movement.

Should too much dopamine be released, your brain causes your body to make unnecessary movements.

Folate is recommended as a supplement during pregnancy, taken to lower the risk of your baby developing spina bifida.

But folate has another important role: your brain needs this B vitamin to make dopamine.

Research from 2007 showed only 9% of women who took iron and folate supplements during pregnancy suffered RLS symptoms, compared with 80% of women who didn’t take them.

Women who have RLS before pregnancy might find the condition worsens, particularly in the third trimester, and becomes progressively worse with each subsequent pregnancy.

What Can I Do About Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Legs Syndrome Spray

Start with some quality magnesium spray (or cream) for your legs. Don’t buy the cheap and nasties, they can contain impurities. Magnesium is readily absorbed through the skin, so you can also add magnesium salts to your bath. 

Epsom salts contain magnesium, but if possible, opt for pure magnesium flakes and pop them in the bath.

In most cases, women need to utilise any number of non-medical treatments to relieve their symptoms:

  • Women need 3-4 times more iron and 8-10 times more folate when pregnant. Talk to your care provider about having your levels tested, and try to include natural forms of iron and folate in your diet. Your ferritin (iron storage) levels should be well above 20 – the range is usually 20-200 in most countries. Unfortunately, the minimum level of 20 is seen to be acceptable, but can still impact how you function. 
  • Avoid medications which block dopamine levels and increase RLS symptoms, such as antihistamines, most antidepressants, anti-nausea drugs, cold and flu drugs, and allergy medications.
  • Exercise every day to improve circulation, boost pain relieving endorphins, and increase blood flow to muscles. Just don’t overdo it and definitely avoid exercise too close to bedtime.
  • If your symptoms are keeping you awake all night, try going to bed at midnight and waking at 9am. Dopamine and iron levels usually drop at night and rise during the day, and this might help you to avoid the peak time for symptoms.
  • Avoid drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages. Circulation is best when you’re well hydrated. 
  • Have weekly massages (as if you need an excuse!) to alleviate the symptoms of RLS.
  • Avoid lying or sitting still too long before sleep, as the longer you are inactive the more likely the symptoms of RLS will appear.

Tips For When You Wake Up With Restless Legs

If you wake up with restless legs, you might like to try the following to alleviate the symptoms, and hopefully get back to sleep:

  • Massage your legs with magnesium spray or cream
  • Use warm or cold compresses on your leg muscles
  • Have a warm bath
  • Drink some water or herbal teas. Check out our article about helpful varieties of tea during pregnancy.
  • Stretch your legs, and walk around
  • Try distracting yourself with a book or activity

For most women who develop Restless Leg Syndrome during pregnancy, it’s only temporary.

Unfortunately it might be one of those things you have to live with, but usually it peaks in the last month of pregnancy and disappears not long after the birth of your baby.

If RLS is causing you to struggle due to lack of sleep, speak to your care provider.

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Sam McCulloch enjoyed talking so much about birth she decided to become a birth educator and doula, supporting parents in making informed choices about their birth experience. In her spare time she writes novels. She is mother to three beautiful little humans.

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