Pregnancy has its good and bad moments, and I'm sure every mama would agree with me when I say this and also agree that restless legs syndrome during pregnancy is not one of the finest moments.
Despite the challenges that come with pregnancy, it is still an incredible journey filled with joy, excitement, and anticipation.
Just imagining holding your little one’s tiny hands makes it all worth it!
Let's chat about restless leg syndrome during pregnancy(RLS), a common sleep disorder in some mamas.
RLS is also a (frustrating) pregnancy symptom. If you are experiencing this right now, please know that you are surrounded by love and support during this journey.
So, grab a cup of tea and get comfortable as you explore how to handle or deal with RLS during pregnancy with a positive attitude. It sucks, I know it; I have dealt with it myself.
Why I am here and who I am:
Hey mama, I am Trish— AKA Labor Nurse Mama, a labor and delivery nurse with over 15 years of high-risk OB experience. I am also a mama to 7 kids and have given birth to 6 and have labored thousands of mamas and delivered many, many babies. I am the online birth class educator for Calm Labor Confident Birth and The VBAC Lab birth classes, and the mama expert inside our Calm Mama Society Mama Membership Community! You can find me over on IG teaching over 240k mamas daily.
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What is Restless Legs Syndrome during pregnancy?
If you feel like you have a tiny marching band in your legs that plays a relentless tune of discomfort – you may have unwittingly encountered the pesky symptoms of restless legs syndrome.
RLS, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a neurological disorder defined by an irresistible (like I gotta do it) urge to move the legs or arms, often accompanied by an unpleasant sensation, such as tingling, crawling, or itching.
The discomfort typically occurs when the person is at rest, such as when sitting or lying down. Studies have found that the occurrence rate of RLS among expectant mothers varied from 10% to 34% (PubMed).
It has been reported to be most prevalent in the third trimester of pregnancy, gradually increasing from about 10% in the first trimester. In some instances, they may persist even postpartum.
Nevertheless, symptoms usually tend to disappear entirely shortly after childbirth.
You have to hang in there, mama! There is an end in sight!
What are the symptoms of restless legs syndrome during pregnancy?
The symptoms of RLS can vary in severity and frequency, but they often worsen at night, leading to difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Some common symptoms of RLS include:
- Unpleasant sensations in the legs, typically in the calf, but sometimes in the thigh, feet, or arms.
- The urge to move the legs to relieve discomfort may be irresistible.
- Restlessness or an inability to sit still due to discomfort in the legs.
- Symptoms that are worse in the evening or at night and often interfere with sleep.
- Temporary relief from symptoms with movement, such as walking or stretching.
- Symptoms that are not related to any other medical or neurological condition.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
RLS may also lead to the following symptoms:
- Mood changes
- Daytime sleepiness and exhaustion
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nocturnal leg cramps
- Memory impairment
- Reduced productivity
- Anxiety and depression
But on a positive note, while RLS is commonly associated with pregnancy, studies on the prevalence of restless legs syndrome during pregnancy have found that the symptoms of RLS negatively impact the quality of life in pregnant women (PubMed). Yes, to a strong and capable mama!
What causes restless legs syndrome during pregnancy?
The exact cause of restless legs syndrome is not yet fully understood. However, several factors may contribute to the development of RLS. These include:
- An imbalance of dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates movement, mood, and motivation.
- Genetics, iron, and folate deficiency
- High estradiol during the last trimester of pregnancy, increased prolactin, and increased progesterone (pesky pregnancy hormones)
- Weight gain during pregnancy
- Chronic diseases such as kidney failure and diabetes
- Certain medications like antidepressants and antipsychotics.
Additionally, certain lifestyle factors such as lack of physical activity, caffeine consumption, and smoking may exacerbate symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Overall, the causes of restless legs syndrome are complex and can vary from person to person, and each person ranges on the diagnostic criteria they might meet.
How is restless legs syndrome diagnosed?
While there isn’t a test that can confirm the diagnosis of RLS, you can still consult your healthcare provider and be asked about your symptoms, family history of RLS, medication use, and sleep habits. They may also conduct a physical examination to check for any underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to your symptoms. Additionally, they may recommend blood tests, sleep studies, or other diagnostic tests to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
PRO MAMA TIP: It won’t hurt to have a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional to diagnose restless legs syndrome accurately.
Are there things that make RLS worse?
Yes, several factors can exacerbate the symptoms of restless legs syndrome (and you may want to avoid them). These include:
- Lack of physical activity: Leading a sedentary lifestyle is a big NO! If you think you’re not getting enough exercise, making small movements won’t hurt. Regular exercise can help improve circulation, reduce stress, and promote better sleep.
- Caffeine and alcohol: First, no more coffee (and I shout, WTH!, this is hard for me)! Consuming caffeine and alcohol (you're preggo, so this should be given) can worsen RLS symptoms, as these substances can interfere with sleep and exacerbate restlessness.
- Iron deficiency: More iron means more production of dopamine – a neurotransmitter that regulates movement and mood.
- Smoking can worsen RLS symptoms, as nicotine can affect blood flow and exacerbate the urge to move.
Ultimately, by taking a proactive and informed approach to manage your health, you can take control of your symptoms and enjoy a greater sense of well-being.
How can I get enough sleep when I have restless legs syndrome?
Can’t remember the last time you had a good night’s sleep? I got you, mama! As Dr. Kukafka said, “It is not necessarily about getting enough sleep but getting quality sleep.” So, here are some tips and tricks to help you improve sleep quality while battling with RLS:
- Establish a bedtime routine: Take a warm bath, read a book or practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation. Creating a calming bedtime routine can help signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep, even without the help of sleep medicine.
- Adjust your sleep environment: This might involve adjusting the temperature, investing in comfortable bedding or a supportive mattress, or using blackout curtains or a white noise machine to create a more restful atmosphere.
- Exercise regularly: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, but be sure to avoid exercising too close to bedtime, as this can interfere with sleep.
- Try alternative therapies: Some mamas have tried alternative therapies like acupuncture, massage, or yoga. While these therapies may not work for everyone, they can be a safe and non-invasive way to promote relaxation and reduce stress.
- Meditate or Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices such as meditation and deep breathing can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
- Check and double-check that you took your vitamins and supplements!
Again, it is important to consult with your doctor before trying out any medications and exercises.
What is the treatment for restless legs syndrome during pregnancy?
Not having too many medications to use to treat RLS can be challenging. However, several non-pharmacological treatments may effectively reduce symptoms and improve the quality of your life as a pregnant woman with RLS.
- Lifestyle changes: Start with good hygiene, exercise regularly, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation.
- Iron supplements: Some experts think that RLS is linked to iron-deficiency anemia. But first, consult with your healthcare provider, as excessive iron can also be harmful and may cause pregnancy complications.
- Compression stockings: Wearing compression stockings can help improve circulation and reduce symptoms of RLS. Ask your doctor for the right type and compression level for your needs.
- Massage therapy: Find relief through massage therapy. Trust me, relaxing and destressing can work wonders.
- Stretching: Gentle stretching exercises can also help reduce symptoms of RLS during pregnancy. Ask your healthcare provider to recommend safe and effective stretches for your needs.
By working closely with your healthcare provider and trying out different treatment approaches, you may be able to reduce the prevalence of RLS and find relief from the discomfort it brings
Will RLS go away after I give birth?
As a new mom, restless legs syndrome (RLS) can be an unwelcome addition to the long list of pressing things you must attend to in the middle of the night. And the only question you want to be answered is: Will this (RLS) ever go away?
Well, the good news is that for some mamas, RLS symptoms may improve or even disappear after giving birth. This is because RLS during pregnancy is often related to hormonal changes and increased blood volume, both of which may normalize after delivery. However, it's important to note that not all women will experience relief from RLS symptoms after giving birth. In some cases, RLS may persist or even worsen after delivery, mainly if there are underlying medical conditions or risk factors at play. Again mama, if you are experiencing symptoms of RLS during or after pregnancy, it's essential to talk to your healthcare provider to help manage your discomfort and improve your quality of life.
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