Restless Leg Syndrome is Real and Pregnant Moms are No Longer Ignoring It
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was young, naive, and I believed what most people told me. I was working in corporate America and I was surrounded by boss woman having babies and crushing ceilings. It was great.
However, the general attitude towards pregnancy was grit your teeth, get through it and medicate anything that feels uncomfortable.
My friends and I had doctors who would write prescriptions for almost anything, regardless of how effective or how risky they could be. The justification of this being, ‘there’s no need to suffer’ when you are pregnant. Maybe there is a right time for Zofran, antidepressants and the like, but experience as taught me they certainly should not be the first line of defense.
Sadly, our ‘medicate it’ attitude did not work out well for all of us. Several women in this group had babies in the NICU or miscarried for challenges that could have been related to the pills we somewhat desperately popped as our work life did not mesh well with pregnant life.
While I agree with the sentiment, there is no need to suffer in pregnancy, 5 years of studying nutrition, aromatherapy and plant medicine has taught me that when our bodies are suffering, it is truly calling out for us to pay attention and give it something it needs (very rarely a drug).
Your body is an excellent communicator, and if you feel like crap, your body is trying very hard to tell you something.
If you pay attention and listen, you can find a solution that doesn’t have the side effect list of a pharmaceutical.
What is restless leg syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome is a creeping feeling in the legs that makes you want to just move around. It is a feeling of not being able to keep you legs still. It often strikes at night and keeps you up more than your baby will.
One study found that twenty six percent of women will be affected by restless leg syndrome during pregnancy (that’s 1 in 4 of us!). Though it can happen any time in pregnancy, it is most common in the third trimester.
One good thing is that RLS almost always resolves itself and disappears after you deliver you baby. It won’t be around forever. But when you are experiencing it, it is a huge PITA.
Follow these 5 steps to resolve your pregnancy related restless leg syndrome.
Make sure that you mention to your doctor or midwife that you are experiencing restless leg syndrome. Even if you are managing it well at home, they will want to know so that they can be aware and provide the best care to you. My advice never replaces theirs.
1. Review your diet and add foods that have iron.
One study found that women who suffer from RLS (restless leg syndrome) have lower levels of iron in their body. One easy change to make is to increase the foods that you eat that have iron in them. Some foods to add to your diet are:
spinach (especially cooked spinach)
beans such as chickpeas, lentils and peas
red meet (within reason)
In addition to eating foods with more iron, you may also want to increase foods that are high in vitamin C which increases your bodies ability absorb iron.
2. Add a pregnancy tea high in iron.
Another easy way to increase the iron in you diet is to add a morning and evening pregnancy tea to your routine. These teas are high in many vitamins and minerals (including both iron and vitamin C!). My favorite blend of prenatal tea is sold by Nil Organics.
To make a delicious tea, steep your tea in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes and add a tablespoon of honey and a dash of coconut milk.
These are the tea leaves that will provide you with a hearty increase of absorb-able iron that you will likely see in a pregnancy tea blend.
Red Raspberry Leaf – this tea is rich in iron and is known for helping to tone the uterus, increase milk production, decrease nausea and ease labor pains. It is a must for mamas cooking babies.
Dandelion- this tea is rich in vitamin A, calcium and iron.
Nettles- This tea is high in vitamins A, C, K, calcium, potassium and iron. It is concerted a high quality all-round pregnancy tonic.
Chamomile- this tea is high is calcium, magnesium and vitamin C. It is a wonderful tea to sip on after enjoying a meal high in iron to help you absorb the nutrients you ate.
Although iron deficiencies are commonly found in women with RLS, the exact cause is not known. It is possible that there are many causes (as can happen when nutrition or lack of absorption of nutrition is part of the problem.) Currently, there are treatments available using both pharmacological and non-pharmacological drugs. These drugs affect your dopamine levels and can have serious complications.
There was a study done on using massage and lavender oil that found that this treatment was effective, and they observed no harmful side effects on the study participants! (Lavender is one of the most gentle oils, so this is no surprise!)
If you have an extensive oil collection or can grab one more, I also reccommend adding a small amount of black pepper oil, which aids circulation. If you don’t, replace those drops with lavender on it’s own.
Mix these all together and massage a small amount on your legs before you go to bed at night.
4. Check your prenatal vitamin for folate vs folic acid.
It was once thought that there was no difference between folate and the synthetic version of this nutrient, folic acid. Mistakenly, many prenatal vitamins still contain the synthetic version which can actually interfere with the absorption of certain minerals. If you look at the ingredient list on your vitamin bottle and it says folic acid, I would highly recommend reconsidering and taking a different vitamin. You can see a wonderful explanation of what to look for in a prenatal vitamin on Mama Natural’s blog here.
5. Get moving.
Think about the activities that get your circulation moving that you enjoy. Go for a walk. Indulge in a good orgasm. Take a yoga class. Doing something that gets your body moving and your blood circulating can often help with RLS.
6. The bonus suggestion: Magnesium.
There are not many studies on magnesium and restless leg syndrome. However, we do know that about 80 percent of the american population is deficient in magnesium. Magnesium plays an important role in energy production, sleep and muscle relaxation.
Many women observe that as they address their magnesium deficiency, their RLS symptoms decrease. I recommend taking an Epsom salt bath regularly during pregnancy. Your body will absorb magnesium from the salts as you enjoy a little self care time. To do this mix 1/4 cup Epsom salts with your bath water. For bonus points add 3 drops lavender and 1 drop black pepper to the salts before you mix them with the water.
This is a wonderful way to relax and the body will absorb magnesium and other minerals right through the water.
Suffering through restless leg syndrome is not a badge of honor.
It is a good thing that women are noticing and paying attention to symptoms such as restless leg syndrome. This discomfort is your body screaming to you that it is deficient in something. Talk with your doctor and try these natural remedies. I’d love to hear back from you what worked to relieve your symptoms and bring you back the ability to get a good nights sleep.