Restless Leg Syndrome in Pregnancy Treatments

by | September 17, 2018

Let’s be honest, while there are many enjoyable parts of pregnancy, there are also quite a few unpleasant aspects that come along with the journey, especially Restless Leg Syndrome.

One such nuisance is restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekborn disease, which affects nearly one-third of pregnant women1. RLS is a condition that causes a strong urge to move your legs, usually paired with an uncontrollable tingling or crawling feeling (NIH). It is most common at night when inactive and frequently occurs during the last trimester of pregnancy (although, if you’re like me, you may get to enjoy it the whole time). Restless leg syndrome is known for interrupting sleep.

There are some simple home remedies that can help manage restless leg syndrome symptoms, such as getting up and walking around, stretching your legs, adjusting your sleep position and routine, getting regular exercise during the day, leg massages (looking at you, spouse), wearing compression stockings while sleeping, elevating the legs, and applying hot or cold packs. Different things may work better for different people.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy and genetics may be to blame for restless leg syndrome, but research suggests that nutrition can also play a role in RLS risk, prevention, and management.

Below are three nutrients thought to have the biggest impact on a restless leg syndrome, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of each for pregnant women, and the best food sources to find them. Over-the-counter supplements can also be helpful to remedy specific micronutrient deficiencies that may be the culprit but speak with your healthcare provider before taking them.

restless leg


Restless Leg Treatments 

Iron (RDA = 27 mg/day3)

Dark leafy greens (e.g. kale, broccoli, swiss chard)

Dried apricots and raisins

Iron-fortified cereals

Beans and lentils

Blackstrap molasses

Note: Eat these with foods rich in Vitamin C (like citrus fruits) to optimize iron absorption.

Folate (RDA = 600 mcg/day4)

Spinach and other leafy greens

Fortified cereals and whole grains

Black-eyed peas

Beans and lentils

Quinoa

Asparagus

Brussels sprouts

Avocado

Magnesium (RDA = 350-400 mg/day5)

Spinach

Almonds, cashews, and peanuts

Edamame, tofu, and soy milk

Black beans

Whole grains

Note: Low potassium is often blamed for restless legs (leading to the suggestion to eat more bananas) because of the role it plays in muscle contraction, but low potassium levels can be secondary to magnesium deficiency.6

High caffeine intake can make restless legs worse, so avoiding coffee, tea, and chocolate may also help to alleviate symptoms.

Fortunately, RLS subsides shortly after childbirth for most women, so hang in there! You may continue to lose sleep once you’re no longer pregnant, but you now have a newborn to thank for that.

References

  1. Hensley, JG. Leg cramps and restless legs during pregnancy. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. 2009;54(3): 211-218.
  2. Restless legs syndrome. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/restless-legs-syndrome
  3. Iron. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/ Updated March 2, 2018.
  4. Folate. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/ Updated March 2, 2018.
  5. Magnesium. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ Updated March 2, 2018.
  6. Huang, CL & Kuo, E. Mechanism of hypokalemia in magnesium deficiency. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 2007;18: 2649-2652.

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Lauren Panoff

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD is a plant-based lifestyle strategist for families and founder of Chronic Planet. Join the Ask A Vegan Dietitian premium Facebook group to talk nutrition with Lauren and receive weekly meal templates!

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