It's not quite known why pregnant women are more likely to suffer from restless leg syndrome (RLS). There are theories that it's due to iron or folic acid deficiency, or the pregnancy hormones make dopamine in the brain fluctuate. Fortunately, it is temporary.
RLS tends to happen at night and when you are resting, which means it usually affects your sleep. Symptoms tend to peak in the third trimester and usually go away a few weeks after you have given birth.
Most medications used to relieve RLS and cramps is not recommended in pregnancy. Quinine (found in tonic water) is also not recommended as we do not know enough about the affects on the unborn baby.
Things you can do to help...
- exercise can help, tensing up the muscles and then relaxing them.
- stretch out before bed time. Leg stretches can help stop RLS and cramps from happening.
- even small amounts of caffeine can make RLS and cramps worse. Steer clear of tea, coffee and caffeine filled soft drinks like cola and iron-bru. Chocolate also has caffeine in!
- get in bed only when you are ready to sleep. Lying in bed before sleep can make it worse.
- make sure you are taking a good pregnancy vitamin, like Pregnacare.
- drink PLENTY of water, at least 2 litres a day. In hot weather you will need to drink more.
- take a warm bath before bed.
- massage your legs before bed- if you use an oil, lavender can be relaxing but must be used with a carrier oil.
- hot or cold compresses (like a face cloth) can be applied to your legs to help relieve symptoms.
- when you start getting symptoms, get up and walk about. Stretch your legs, feet and toes. Staying in bed won't help and will just make you lose more sleep. Try the muscle relaxation technique below.
Muscle relaxation involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body.
With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension-as well as complete relaxation-feels like in different parts of the body. This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of stress relief.
Start from the bottom of your body (feet), tensing then relaxing, and work your way up. (See below)
1. Right foot, then left foot
2. Right calf, then left calf
3. Right thigh, then left thigh
4. Hips and buttocks
8. Right arm and hand, then left arm and hand
9. Neck and shoulders
- Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
- Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
- When you're relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
- Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
- Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
- Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
- When you're ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
- Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
- It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.