Actually, until a few years ago, I didn’t know that many women have to deal with restless legs during pregnancy. However, I read about this several times on a fellow sufferer forum. Although I have never had a pregnancy myself, I still find it interesting to learn more about this.
In this blog I will discuss the following aspects:
- What are the specifics of restless legs during pregnancy?
- What are the possible causes?
- Can you do something about it?
In general, 5 to 10% of the population has to deal with restless leg syndrome. This percentage is much higher among pregnant women, namely one in four. In this group it is considered secondary RLS. It means that the restless legs are the result of another disorder or circumstance, in this case pregnancy.
Symptoms can develop as early as the first trimester, but are worst during the third trimester (around 7-8 months). The good news is that in most cases the symptoms disappear after giving birth. However, if women receive an epidural during childbirth, the symptoms may last longer.
Pregnant women also often experience cramps in their calves. However, this is different from restless legs. A cramp is when the calf muscle contracts painfully. In that case it helps to stretch your leg and move the toes towards you. With restless legs, the unpleasant feeling usually disappears when you start moving.
Some women have restless legs before pregnancy. With them, the symptoms often get worse during pregnancy. Unfortunately, their trouble will probably not disappear after pregnancy.
It is unknown what exactly causes restless legs in pregnant women. Factors that could play a role in this group in particular are:
- Folic acid deficiency (also known as vitamin B11 and in other countries as vitamin B9)
- Iron deficiency
- Lack of sleep
- Varicose veins
- Thick ankles
- Nerve constriction
Poor sleep worsens the symptoms of restless legs. Restless legs make you sleep worse. This may turn into a very unpleasant vicious cycle.
The other factors I mention above can all cause a worsening of the blood flow in the legs. This causes restless legs.
Factors that may also affect RLS include:
- High estrogen levels (due to pregnancy)
- Genetic predisposition
- Altered dopamine levels in the brain (due to pregnancy)
What can you do about it
There are medicines for restless legs. However, these are almost never prescribed to pregnant women, because the medication has risks.
In my blog about sleeping badly, I already mentioned a number of tips that are also useful for pregnant women with restless legs. Poor sleep can make the symptoms of restless legs worse. Therefore, try to ensure the best possible night’s sleep.
Supplements for iron and folic acid deficiencies may also help. Vitamin B12 is also sometimes mentioned. Have your blood tested to see if you have a shortage of any of these. In any case, discuss it with your doctor before you start being your own doctor.
Make sure you get enough exercise. This may become more difficult as you progress through the pregnancy. However, as far as possible, take regular walks, go swimming or take a bike ride.
Drink enough water (at least 1.5 liters per day) and avoid caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, cola). Preferably, do not to take alcohol and don’t smoke.
Do mild stretching or yoga. You can do the exercises during the day, but also just before going to sleep. An additional advantage of the latter is that you will probably fall asleep afterwards more easily because of the relaxation. If you are unsure which exercises are best during pregnancy, seek the advice of a physiotherapist or an experienced yoga teacher.
Try a cold foot bath or a warm bath. Both ensure better blood circulation.
Medicines for other conditions can have the side effect of worsening your troubled legs. Read the package leaflet and if applicable, discuss with your doctor whether you can – temporarily – stop taking these medications for a while.
Do you have experience with restless legs during pregnancy and what worked best for you?