Restless leg syndrome affects a lot of people, but it seems to be a very common issue with pregnant women. In fact, about one third of women who are pregnant will battle restless leg syndrome, also known as RLS. RLS makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which can make you, mom-to-be, grumpier and more tired than usual.
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Why Do Pregnant Women Get RLS?
What makes pregnant women so susceptible to restless leg syndrome? Experts still aren’t sure what causes RLS in pregnant women, but many believe it’s a genetic condition. Some also say that RLS is caused by an imbalance of dopamine, the brain chemical that keeps muscle movements even and smooth.
In pregnant women, restless leg syndrome may also be a sign that you’re not getting enough iron or folic acid. Some evidence also suggests that higher estrogen levels may contribute to the problem.
Common Symptoms of RLS
Many women experience the following sensations in their legs:
- “Creepy-crawly” feeling
These sensations give you an overwhelming urge to move your legs. Once you do move your legs, the sensations subside – temporarily.
The good news is that RLS won’t harm your baby. The bad news is that the usual treatments for typical leg cramps, like stretching, flexing and exercising, won’t work. And prescriptions that are meant to relieve restlessness can’t be taken during pregnancy.
What can you do about restless leg syndrome?
8 Tips to Calm RLS during Pregnancy
If the symptoms of RLS are severe enough to keep you up at night, you should see your doctor right away. Typically, Mirapex or Requip are used to treat RLS, but these drugs have not been tested in pregnant women. For this reason, doctors won’t prescribe these medications for RLS if you’re pregnant.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to suffer with RLS throughout your entire pregnancy. Here are some tips to help alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms you’re experiencing:
1. Have Your Iron Levels Tested
Restless leg syndrome may be a sign of an iron deficiency. Have your doctor check your iron levels. If your levels are low, you can take an iron supplement to correct the problem, and hopefully, RLS, too.
2. Try Relaxis
If an iron deficiency isn’t the problem, you can ask your doctor about Relaxis, a medical device that can help alleviate RLS symptoms. Relaxis is a vibrating pad that is placed under the legs when you’re sleeping. This device is only available through a prescription, so you will need to see your doctor if you want to try Relaxis.
3. Keep a Food Journal
Sometimes, certain foods can aggravate RLS symptoms. Keep a food journal, so you can identify which foods you eat before your RLS symptoms appear. Some pregnant women have found that eating carbohydrates later in the day can trigger symptoms.
Keeping a journal can also help you pinpoint which foods improve your symptoms, so you can make changes to your diet.
Many experts recommend staying away from caffeine, as it can make symptoms worse. If you’re the type who drinks coffee or soda on a daily basis, consider cutting back on your intake to see if your symptoms improve.
4. Heat Things Up
Many pregnant women have found that taking a warm bath or placing a heating pad underneath the legs alleviates their symptoms.
If heat doesn’t work, ice might.
Give both a try to see if either provide you with any relief. Just make sure that the water isn’t too hot if you decide to take a bath.
5. De-stress Your Life
Stress can contribute to restless leg syndrome – and a lot of other issues – during pregnancy. Take some time to de-stress. Try yoga, meditation, breathing exercises or just doing something fun that you enjoy.
Acupuncture has also worked wonders for many women with RLS, and can provide you with other health benefits as well.
6. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is hard as-is when you’re pregnant, but it’s especially difficult if you have RLS. Lack of sleep can make your irritable and prevent you from being your best.
Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep at night, or take naps whenever possible. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, try drinking a cup of chamomile tea an hour before bed. Chamomile is relaxing and soothing, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. A warm bath can also help you relax.
Experts also recommend creating a sleep routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
7. Go For a Walk
Massages and stretches may not provide you with relief, but moving around might. If your legs are restless, get up and walk around. You don’t necessarily have to walk around outside, although that wouldn’t be a bad idea if it’s safe. Just walking around the house may help calm your legs, and give you enough relief to help you get back to sleep.
8. Try Exercise
Regular exercise can also help keep RLS symptoms at bay. Gentle exercise is best, and try to fit in your workout earlier in the day. Exercising just before bed will keep you up all night.
Walking is a great way to exercise, but you can also try prenatal yoga. There are numerous workout routines designed exclusively for pregnant women.
You Don’t Have to Live with RLS Forever
Many pregnant women find that their RLS symptoms disappear just a few days after giving birth. Remember, your body is going through a tremendous amount of changes during pregnancy, so if you never experienced restless leg syndrome before you got pregnant, there’s a good chance it will go away on its own after you give birth.
In the meantime, try the tips above to enjoy some relief and get a better night of sleep. And be sure to talk to your doctor about your RLS and any supplements or herbal teas you plan on taking/drinking.