Pregnancy Problems: Restless Leg Syndrome

  • Restless Leg Syndrome and Pregnancy

    About 26 percent of pregnant women have RLS, according to The Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health. Doctors aren’t sure why, but it may be related to dopamine imbalance, mineral deficiencies, or hormonal changes.

    In women who already had RLS, pregnancy may make it worse, particularly during the last trimester. Some women experience RLS only during pregnancy, but symptoms almost always go away within weeks of delivery. In the meantime, there are some effective remedies you can try.

  • Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

    RLS causes strange, unpleasant sensations in the legs. Some people describe it as pulling, throbbing, irritating, or painful. It causes a powerful and sometimes uncontrollable urge to move your legs. Since symptoms occur primarily at night, getting a good night’s sleep becomes almost impossible. RLS may also be active during long periods of inactivity, such as while traveling or sitting in a movie theater. Symptoms may be present for a few nights a week or more.

    Adding to other physical discomforts of the third trimester of pregnancy, RLS can contribute to fatigue that lasts throughout the day.

    Try these home remedies to reduce symptoms and get a good night’s sleep.

  • Home Remedies: Sleep Positioning

    By the third trimester, sleeping on your front is virtually impossible and sleeping on your back adds a lot of pressure to your lower back and veins. Sleeping on your left side allows for optimal blood circulation. If you tend to roll over during the night, try placing a pillow behind your back—it will keep you from landing on your back, plus it will provide some extra support. For added comfort, place a pillow between your knees.

  • Home Remedies: Sleep Routine

    Create a comfortable sleeping environment with clean sheets, pillowcases, and fresh nightclothes. Have everything you need, like extra pillows, close at hand. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature for sleeping.

    Make a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning. Just before turning in, do something you find relaxing for a half hour or so. Examples include meditation, needlework, reading, or watching your favorite TV show. Turn off digital devices that can interfere with sleep.

  • Home Remedies: Keep Moving

    Don’t overdo it, but try to find time early in the day for some moderate exercise like walking. Try not to spend too much time sitting or standing in one position. Get up, move, and stretch often throughout the day.

    When your legs bother you, have someone massage them, or soak them in warm water. Try alternating heat and cold to alleviate symptoms.

  • Magnesium Supplements

    RLS may be relieved with supplements containing certain minerals, including magnesium. Preliminary studies show magnesium may be helpful, but NYU Langone Medical Center cautions that the lack of double-bind studies makes this treatment speculative.

    According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, pregnant women between the ages of 14 and 18 need 400 mg of magnesium per day; those between 19 and 30 require 350 mg; and those between 31 and 50 need 360 mg.

    Ask your doctor before taking magnesium supplements. Magnesium can interact with some medications and very large doses can be harmful.

  • Magnesium In Your Diet

    You can get much of the magnesium your body needs from a healthy diet. Foods containing magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Foods high in dietary fiber generally contain magnesium. However, during processing, some refined foods may actually lose some of their magnesium content, so read package labels very carefully. Magnesium is also added to many breakfast cereals and other fortified foods. 

  • Medication

    Some of the medications used to treat RLS are intended for other conditions. Muscle relaxants, sleep aids, and narcotics, while sometimes effective in treating RLS symptoms, are very powerful medications. It is unlikely your doctor will prescribe any of these during pregnancy or until any potential underlying conditions are ruled out. It is more likely that your doctor will recommend home remedies, or perhaps a mild pain reliever until you give birth.

    If symptoms of RLS are not relieved within a month of delivery, consult with your doctor.

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