RLS in Pregnancy
It is estimated that between 10 and 25 percent of pregnant women report symptoms of RLS
For many women who develop pregnancy-induced RLS, it is temporary. The symptoms typically peak when you are 7 or 8 months pregnant / third trimester and often (but not always) disappear altogether by the time you deliver your baby or within a month afterward. For women who already have RLS, it usually gets worse during pregnancy. In most cases, women who are on medication for RLS prior to pregnancy should go off medication before becoming pregnant.
No one knows why women who've never had RLS develop it during pregnancy, but there are a number of theories. Iron deficiency, folate deficiency, hormonal changes (specifically a rise in estrogen), and circulatory changes are all possible culprits.
About two-thirds of women who have RLS during pregnancy have pregnancy-induced RLS. Predictors of developing RLS during pregnancy include a family history of RLS (8x risk), a history of RLS in a prior pregnancy (54x risk), a history of RLS in the past (13x risk), and low red blood cell count (2x risk).
Although pregnancy-induced RLS related to pregnancy has a good short-term prognosis, long-term there is triple the risk of developing chronic RLS compared to women who do not experience RLS during pregnancy. This and the strong family history of RLS in women who have RLS during pregnancy suggests a genetic predisposition that is unmasked due to pregnancy-related factors.
Most drugs typically used to treat RLS have not been studied extensively in pregnant women. So there is not enough data to determine all potential risks to your baby.
Ask your doctor or midwife about trying supplements such as iron, magnesium, vitamin B12, or folate. Depending on the quantities in your prenatal vitamin, your practitioner may or may not want you to take more. Ask your doctor before taking over the counter medications or supplements. Your doctor will probably advise you to hold off on stronger prescription drugs until after the baby is born.
Some women find it helpful to stretch their legs, get a massage, use hot or cold packs, take a warm bath (not hot), or practice relaxation techniques. Maybe your partner will massage or rub your legs until you fall asleep.
Smoking and alcohol should be avoided. In addition to known harmful effects on your baby, these have each been associated with increased sleep disturbance and increased RLS in pregnant women.
Some tips from others who have gone through pregnancy with RLS.
The only thing that's been working for me is getting out of bed and either walking around for a bit or just doing squats right by the bed.
One thing that helps is strengthening exercises or "tensing up" the area of muscles that suffer from the problem. For example, my RLS is in my hips. If I'm in bed and feel the RLS coming on, I contract & hold that muscle group for about ten seconds, then relax, and then repeat four or five times.
I get up and do some yoga stretches, stretching my entire leg from hip to toe.
The only thing that helps me sleep is stretching my legs really well before bed. If I don't spend five to ten minutes stretching them out, I can't get to sleep at all.
Once I do fall asleep, it doesn't come back. So I try my hardest to get into the mind-set of not thinking about it. I try thinking of something peaceful, and before I know it I fall asleep. I also noticed the later I go to sleep, the worse it is.
Resources for Professionals
Chronic sleep loss during pregnancy as a determinant of stress: impact on pregnancy outcome.