Restless legs syndrome in pregnancy can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. The third trimester hits. And while you’re pretty keen on catching some Zs, your legs seem to have other ideas. They want to leap up and dance!
So what’s going on here? Do we know what causes restless legs during pregnancy? And what can we do when our legs want to dance to their own tune?
Let’s take a look.
In this article: 📝
- What is restless legs syndrome?
- What causes restless legs syndrome in pregnancy?
- How is restless legs syndrome diagnosed?
- How to help restless legs syndrome during pregnancy
- Does restless legs syndrome stop once you’ve given birth?
What is restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (AKA Willis-Ekbom disease) is a common condition that affects your nervous system.
When there’s no obvious cause of the condition, it’s known as primary restless legs syndrome.
But when restless legs syndrome is linked to something else, such as pregnancy, it’s known as secondary restless legs syndrome.
Secondary restless legs syndrome affects about 20% of pregnant women. So you’re definitely not alone in this.
There is some evidence to suggest that restless legs syndrome is associated with pregnancy complications like preeclampsia.
That’s why it’s important to check in with your doctor if you start experiencing it.
Most of the time, beyond it getting in the way of a good night’s rest, the condition isn’t harmful for you or your baby.
Symptoms of restless legs syndrome
The main symptom of restless legs syndrome, as the name suggests, is an overwhelming urge to move your legs.
You might also feel other sensations in your legs, including:
- A feeling like ants running up and down your legs. (Yep, not fun.)
You’re most likely to experience symptoms in your lower legs, and they can range from mild to severe.
You might just find the sensations irritating, or they could be painful.
Restless legs syndrome in pregnancy tends to arrive in the third trimester.
You’ll often find that the symptoms are worse when you’ve not moved around for a while.
Like when you’re lying in bed at night, or you’ve been sitting during a long car journey.
Generally, your symptoms will ease when you move your legs, but then kick in again when you try to rest. We know—so frustrating!
What causes restless legs syndrome in pregnancy?
Scientists aren’t sure what causes restless legs syndrome in pregnancy.
It’s thought that it could be linked to your changing hormones, but research is ongoing.
One thing that is known to cause secondary restless legs syndrome is iron deficiency anemia, where the iron levels in your blood get too low.
This type of anemia is also common in pregnancy. So it’s possible that this could be what’s behind your restless legs.
Your healthcare provider might suggest a blood test to check your iron levels.
If it does turn out that you have iron-deficiency anemia, you’ll likely be prescribed iron supplements. And hopefully these will ease your symptoms.
You can also try including more iron-rich foods in your pregnancy diet.
Good sources of iron include: beans, nuts, lentils, dried fruit, and spinach.
How is restless legs syndrome diagnosed?
There’s no one test to diagnose restless legs syndrome.
Instead, your doctor will look at your symptoms and medical history, and give you a physical exam.
To make a diagnosis, they’ll look to see if your symptoms:
- Include an overwhelming urge to move your legs, often with other uncomfortable sensations
- Happen or get worse when you’re resting
- Ease when you move your legs or rub them
- Happen or intensify in the evening or at night
How to help restless legs syndrome during pregnancy
There are medications to treat restless legs syndrome, but these have not been approved for use during pregnancy.
It’s possible that iron supplements could help you if your symptoms are caused by iron deficiency anemia.
But if not, what are your options?
The first thing to do is to avoid possible triggers of restless legs syndrome, which can make your symptoms worse.
In some cases, these are things best avoided during pregnancy anyway.
Possible triggers of restless legs syndrome
- Caffeine. Think coffee, tea, some sodas, energy drinks, and chocolate. Stick to a maximum of 200 mg caffeine per day while you’re pregnant. (That’s about one and a half mugs of filter coffee.)
- Smoking. Smoking is best avoided while you’re pregnant to keep you and your baby healthy.
- Drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol while pregnant can lead to serious complications with your pregnancy, so it’s safest to steer clear.
- Food triggers. Keep a food diary to see if any particular foods make your symptoms worse (or better!).
- Certain medications. Antidepressants, antihistamines, beta-blockers, and some antiepileptic drugs could be causing your restless legs.
Important: Don’t stop taking any medication without discussing the situation with your doctor first.
Restless legs syndrome in pregnancy: Home remedies
Here are a few home remedies you can try to ease your symptoms and help you get some much-needed rest:
- Get regular exercise. Walking, dancing, and swimming are all great options. (Just avoid exercising too close to bedtime, as this can make it harder for you to switch off.)
- Stretch your legs. Do some stretches or yoga before you get into bed. Or if symptoms hit as you’re lying down, get up and walk around for a few minutes.
- Turn up the heat. Place heating pads on your legs, or try taking a hot bath before bed (just not too hot). Alternatively…
- Cool things down. Soak your feet in a cold bath or apply an ice pack to your legs, as this could provide some relief.
- Do some relaxation exercises. Try deep breathing, a body scan meditation, or a mindfulness exercise.
- Massage your legs. You can do this yourself or ask your partner or a friend for a helping hand. Or see if a regular appointment with a massage therapist eases your symptoms.
- Distract yourself. Get your mind off your legs by doing something you find fun and interesting. Could be reading, knitting, building a ship in a bottle—whatever works.
Does restless legs syndrome stop once you’ve given birth?
Yes! Because restless legs and pregnancy are closely connected, the condition often disappears within four weeks of giving birth.
But it could even happen much quicker than that.
In the meantime, we hope that these remedies bring you some relief.
And if you’re looking to find a community of like-minded legs, chat to other mamas-to-be in the Peanut community. You’re not alone in this.
Wishing you a peaceful night. 😴
🤰 More on pregnancy health from The 411:
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What to Know About Fasting While Pregnant
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What to Know About Stress While Pregnant
What is a Glucose Test During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy Nausea at Night: Treatments & Causes
Reasons for Dry Mouth When Pregnant (And What To Do)
Throwing Up Blood While Pregnant? What to Know
Can You Use Vicks While Pregnant?
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