Between muscle aches and leg cramps, that persistent need to use the loo, those unexplainable urges to nosh on pickles, and an exhausting case of pregnancy insomnia, being pregnant is not a walk in the park. And now, in your third trimester, you get to experience yet another horrible pregnancy symptom (probably the worst one yet): restless legs syndrome (RLS).
Experienced by an estimated ten to 34 percent of women who are pregnant, RLS can cause unpleasant sensations in your lower body and an uncontrollable urge to move your legs — both of which can throw a major monkey wrench in your sleep. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to find relief.
Read on as we talk about RLS in detail and uncover the culprit behind this common pregnancy complaint and how to kick it to the curb.
Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, RLS is a nervous system condition that causes an intense, often irresistible urge to move your legs (and even your arms or body). Although you might notice the symptoms of this common sleep disorder more at night, it can strike any time when you’re sitting or lying down.
The primary symptom of RLS is the overwhelming urge to move your legs — but you may also have uncomfortable sensations in your legs. Although it may vary slightly from person to person, most people describe these as:
Symptoms typically occur during long periods of inactivity. For example, you may notice them while binging shows on Netflix, traveling, or trying to catch some zzzs.
Doctors aren’t totally sure what causes RLS, but many experts think there may be a genetic predisposition.
According to research, more than 40 percent of people with RLS have some family history of the disorder, with symptoms usually starting before age 40.
In addition to appearing to be hereditary, some neurologists believe the symptoms may have something to do with how the body handles a little chemical known as dopamine.
That may explain why many people with Parkinson’s disease — a disorder related to dopamine — also have RLS. You see, dopamine is involved in controlling muscle movement and just might be the culprit behind those involuntary leg movements associated with RLS.
Pregnancy itself doesn’t cause RLS, but it can lead to a combo of high estrogen levels, low iron levels, and a folate deficiency that are likely to blame for the prevalence of this exhausting condition among pregnant women. Your growing baby doing the cha-cha-slide in utero and pressing down on the sensitive nerves around your sacrum probably isn’t helping either.
Another suspect is vitamin D — low levels of this vital nutrient can affect dopamine activity, which, as we know by now, helps regulate movement (among many other things).
Restless leg syndrome can occur during any stage of your pregnancy, but it’s more likely to develop as your pregnancy progresses. This exhausting condition can also get worse as you get further along, with some women even developing sleep apnea.
Although RLS can be extremely frustrating, it isn’t particularly dangerous in and of itself, and shouldn’t affect your pregnancy. That said, it can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep which could lead to health issues.
Lack of shut-eye during pregnancy has been tied to a number of nerve-wracking complications.
Not getting enough quality sleep during pregnancy has also been associated with adverse maternal and fetal outcomes as well as a much higher risk of developing gestational diabetes and hypertension.
So, does RLS have a negative impact on pregnancy? Yes, but only if the condition disrupts your sleep as rest is imperative for the healthy growth and development of your unborn tot.
If your RLS symptoms are caused by pregnancy, there’s a pretty good chance that they will vanish soon after giving birth to your small bundle.
Unfortunately, though, for those who do experience RLS during pregnancy, there’s a much greater risk of developing the syndrome later on in life, especially if it runs in the family.
But don’t worry — if aches and discomfort in your legs are causing you trouble, our therapeutic bath salts can help you find relief!
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Simply sprinkle the bath salts into warm bath water and enjoy a relaxing soak when you’re ready for some much-needed #SelfCare.
Most of the drugs that are typically used to help reduce RLS — such as Mirapex (pramipexole) and Requip (ropinirole) — have not been studied extensively in pregnant women, so there’s not a whole lot of data to determine all potential risks for a developing fetus.
Some doctors may prescribe opioids, but due to the risk of withdrawal symptoms in a newborn, these drugs are typically not recommended.
Thankfully, there are some things you can do that may help ease the annoying symptoms of RLS — here are some of them:
When your feet start tapping on their own, find something interesting to distract yourself from the annoyance that is RLS.
Grab a crossword puzzle, immerse yourself in a rom-com, get lost in a video game, scroll endlessly through TikTok, start crocheting… anything that can take your attention away from your restless legs.
A relaxing massage is also a fantastic way to take your mind off of those relentless RLS symptoms. Plus, not only does a soothing rub-down feel undeniably amazing, but a massage improves circulation by bringing blood to the muscle tissues.
In other words, a massage is much more than just a great way to keep yourself distracted!
You don’t need to run a marathon, set a new PR at the gym, or sign up for CrossFit, but regular, moderate exercise may help relieve restless legs syndrome — just be sure not to do it too late in the day as it may intensify your symptoms.
Exercise helps to improve blood circulation and the transmission of nerve signals through the body. Whether it’s taking a quick stroll around the block or participating in prenatal yoga classes, movement is a top-tier approach to handling RLS so you can get back to feeling like your best self.
Nutrient deficiencies are a common contributor to some cases of RLS. To help ease your symptoms, your primary care provider may prescribe a prenatal vitamin that contains magnesium. This essential mineral plays a key role in muscle relaxation and proper nerve signal transition.
Don’t want to take a supplement? Try our Organic Magnesium Body Lotion! Loved by 116,000+ pregnant women from all over the US, this 100% organic lotion promotes deeper, more restful sleep thanks to the magnesium that can quickly calm agitated muscles and provide pain relief.
If your magnesium levels appear to be in a healthy range, your RLS symptoms could also be due to an iron deficiency or even a folate deficiency. In these cases, your doctor may suggest taking folic acid and a daily iron supplement.
So there you have it, mama — everything you need to know about restless legs during pregnancy.
Although it can be excruciatingly frustrating, RLS shouldn’t harm your health or the health of your developing baby. It can, however, negatively impact the quality of your sleep, which can be a serious problem, especially when there’s a bun in the oven.
If restless legs syndrome is wreaking havoc on your sleep, talk to your doctor immediately. Don’t wait until you’re in the third trimester of your pregnancy to get relief. Sometimes, quieting your restless legs is as simple as making dietary changes or taking a multivitamin!