Restless Leg Syndrome and Pregnancy

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During pregnancy, the mother-to-be often suffers from various conditions that would not be a problem normally.  One such condition is RLS or restless leg syndrome which is a sleep disorder that can occur for the first time or become more severe during pregnancy. 

The main symptom of RLS is the feeling of an uncontrollable urge to keep moving your legs usually to relieve crawling, tingling or even burning sensations.  Sometimes the legs just feel fidgety and restless so that you have to keep moving them.  These symptoms usually occur just as you are about to fall asleep at night or during the day when you have been sitting still for long periods.  Although the legs are the main area affected, sometimes it can happen in the feet, thighs, arms or hands.

The causes of RLS in pregnancy can be:

• As your body grows and changes, your old sleep positions might feel less comfortable.
• The aches and pains of a normal pregnancy, such as heartburn, nausea, or hemorrhoids can tend to keep you awake at night.
• Your bladder holds less fluid as your baby grows, often necessitating getting up several times a night to urinate.
• Emotional anxiety about birth, becoming a mother, work and your changing relationship with your partner might also play a part in keeping you tossing and turning at night.

The discomfort of RLS tends to increase during the evening or at night while sitting or lying down seems to trigger the restlessness in the legs.  Your feet or toes may move slightly or jerk when you are sitting still or resting.  If the RLS symptoms becomes severe, keep a sleep schedule so you can show your doctor.

You can alleviate the problems of RLS in pregnancy by:

• Trying to take some exercise before bedtime such as a brisk walk, stretching exercises for your legs (stretch your legs, do knee bends or rotate your ankles) or even having a swim.
• Getting a massage for the affected area on the legs or persuading your partner to do one for you.
• Applying warm or cold packs to the affected area or taking warm or cool baths – depending on which one you find helpful.
• Practising relaxation techniques – such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing.
• Avoiding caffeine because this can aggravate the symptoms of RLS.
• Being active before bedtime rather than lying in bed reading or watching television.
• Checking with your doctor if you need to take additional iron. Folate deficiency, hormonal changes and circulatory changes can all be possible causes of RLS when you are pregnant.
• Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs.
•  Standing up frequently and walking around, especially if you are still working.
The good news is that RLS in pregnancy is usually a temporary condition – lasting up to a maximum of 6 months after your baby is born.