Restless Legs in Pregnancy is Real and Moms are No Longer Ignoring It
What is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless Legs Syndrome in pregnancy is a creeping feeling in the legs that makes your legs move around whether you want them to or not. Sometimes you can’t stop your legs from moving around, even if you are trying to. It is a feeling of not being able to keep your legs still. It often strikes at night and keeps you up more than your baby will.
One good thing is that Restless Leg Syndrome almost always resolves itself and disappears after you deliver your baby. It won’t be around forever.
But when your legs won’t stop moving, when it feels like ants are crawling up and down them, and when you just want to be able to sleep, know that there are things you can do to find relief.
This article will help you understand why restless legs in pregnancy are so common and what you can do about it.
Your body is doing amazing things during pregnancy and sometimes that comes with annoying side effects such as Restless Legs Syndrome.
Did you know that one study published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health 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 during the third trimester.
Why Do Restless Legs Happen During the Third Trimester?
The simple answer to why restless legs happen in the third trimester of pregnancy is that unless (and sometimes even if) you have been very intentional about getting all the nutrients you need, your body is likely depleted.
By the end of the third trimester, your body will have accomplished incredible feats. Think about how many nutrients your body will demand as your body:
Increases the volume of blood circulating your body by 50%
Grows an entirely new organ to support and nourish your baby during pregnancy (hello placenta)
And, of course, creates an entirely new human being (hi baby!)
So you can imagine that by the third trimester, as you are heading to the finishing line of pregnancy, nutritional deficiencies can happen. And when they do, your body will tell you by developing symptoms such as restless legs.
This article will help you know how to support your body with diet, herbs and essential oils to help alleviate the discomfort of restless legs.
Make sure to communicate your symptoms and remedies with your doctor. They will want to know so that they can provide you the best care. This article does not replace medical advice.
5 Steps to Relieve Restless Legs in Pregnancy
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1. Review Your Diet and Add Foods that Have Iron.
One study found that women who suffer from RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) have significantly lower levels of iron in their bodies than pregnant women who do not suffer from RLS. An important thing to note is that these women were often getting more iron through supplements, but they were not able to absorb the iron and use it.
One easy change to make is to increase the foods that you eat that have iron in them. Often, iron can be easier for your body to absorb when it comes from a naturally occurring food source.
Iron-rich foods to add to your diet are:
spinach (especially cooked spinach)
beans such as chickpeas, lentils, and peas
grass-fed red meat (within reason)
You may also want to review how much vitamin C you are eating. Vitamin C increases the amount of iron your body absorbs.
One more thing to consider is if any of your medications could be leading to iron deficiency. Check out our article on pregnancy heartburn relief to find out how your antacids can lead to low iron.
Herbal Teas Can Be A Wonderful Way to Increase Iron
Another easy way to increase the iron in your diet is to add a prenatal tea to your diet. It’s often suggested to have 1 cup a day in your first trimester, 2 cups a day in your second trimester and 3 cups a day in your 3rd trimester.
The following teas are high in many vitamins and minerals (including both iron and vitamin C!). My favorite blend of prenatal tea is made by Nil Organics. I love it because it contains all the tea leaves below and tastes delicious at the same time.
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. It also increases milk production, decreases nausea and eases labor pains. It is a must for mamas cooking babies.
Dandelion- this tea is rich in vitamin A, calcium and iron. Dandelion is known for supporting the liver.
Nettles- this tea is high in vitamins A, C, K, calcium, potassium and iron. It is considered a high-quality all-around pregnancy tonic.
Chamomile- this tea is high in 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 just ate.
You can purchase these individually an enjoy them as individual teas or purchase a blend specifically made for your stage of pregnancy.
How to Prepare a Delicious Cup of Prenatal Tea
To make a delicious tea, steep your tea in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon of honey and a dash of coconut milk for extra flavor and richness.
2. Indulge Your Legs in a Wonderful Lavender and Cypress Essential Oil Massage.
Although iron deficiencies are commonly found in women with RLS, the exact cause is not known. Sometimes, women have restless legs in pregnancy and do not have an iron deficiency.
Currently, there are treatments available using both pharmacological and non-pharmacological drugs. These drugs affect your dopamine levels and can have serious complications and are generally not recommended for pregnancy.
However, you are not out of options! There was a study done that found a safe and effective treatment by using a lavender essential oil massage. The researchers 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 recommend adding a small amount of cypress oil, which aids circulation. If you don’t, replace those drops with lavender on its own in the following recipe.
This is How You Create a Massage Blend for Restless Legs in Pregnancy
When I studied aromatherapy for pregnancy, birth and postpartum through the Penny Price Institute, I always wanted to know why certain oils were recommended or why they could possibly help with certain ailments.
Lavender oil has been used and appreciated for thousands of years and still remains one of the most popular essential oils. It is safe, versatile and gentle. Often, lavender is thought of as calming, but it is also anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antispasmodic and stimulating to the immune system. Lavender is well known for its effective relief of inflammation, muscular pain and pain arising from tension. It is an oil with many many uses.
I learned in my aromatherapy training that cypress oil is often used for restless legs syndrome in pregnancy.
Cypress Essential Oil is one of the most common oils for treating muscular problems in pregnancy and throughout life. Why is this? It is because when applied to the skin, it dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow to a certain area. It is also reported to flush lactic acid from the body.
You will notice, that there are not many drops in the massage blend. A 2-ounce bottle of massage oil as this recipe helps you make, will last you for several weeks if not close to a month. Obviously, the ingredients you purchase will last you a long time and these oils can help with many ailments in the future.
If you are curious about why I chose Doterra essential oils for my family, you can learn more about them here.
Watch for my upcoming article on essential oils safety in pregnancy. Coming February 2020.
3. 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.
4. Get Moving to Get Your Blood Flowing.
Think about the activities you enjoy that get your circulation moving. 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.
5. Take a Time Out in a Magnesium Bath.
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 soak in the water. In fact, soaking in an Epsom salt bath is a more effective way to absorb magnesium that taking a magnesium supplement.
To do this mix 1/4 cup Epsom salts with your bathwater. For bonus points add 3 drops lavender and 1 drop black pepper to the salts before you mix them with the water.
Suffering Through Restless Legs in Pregnancy 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 in pregnancy. The discomfort is your body screaming to you that it needs something.
Studies have shown that women with restless legs in pregnancy are more likely to develop preeclampsia and depression. It is important to recognize your symptoms and speak with your care provider about them so that you can get on top of your symptoms right away.
I’d love to hear back from you about what worked to relieve your symptoms.