How to Handle Restless Leg Syndrome During Pregnancy

That twitchy, itchy feeling in your legs could come from several surprising culprits. Learn how to control this uncomfortable sensation that’s keeping you up at night.

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Pregnancy can be full of joyful moments, but the sleep challenges expectant moms face in the third trimester are anything but pleasant. During the last few months before childbirth, nighttime disruptions can include frequent urination, kicking from the baby, and heartburn. But perhaps the most annoying, uncomfortable sensation comes from restless leg syndrome, an uncontrollable, twitchy feeling in the lower limbs that forces sufferers to get up and move (or else lie there in spasm). Restless leg syndrome affects plenty of expectant mothers as well: Up to 15 percent of pregnant women develop the condition in the third trimester. Although there is no hard and fast fix for restless leg syndrome, there are some ways you can lower your risk for it or ease the sensation if it occurs.

Check Your Diet

Some women who develop restless leg syndrome in pregnancy may have low levels of iron and/or folic acid. Iron insufficiency is believed to affect dopamine production, a brain chemical responsible for motor control. Ask your doctor whether taking an iron or folic acid supplement might help.

Turn Left

Sleeping on your left side during pregnancy can help improve blood circulation for both you and your baby, which might help with cramping legs. This position has also been shown to enhance blood flow to your organs. If you are not normally a side sleeper, make it more comfortable by placing a pillow between your knees, behind your back, or under your belly to provide additional support.

Point and Flex

When leg spasms hit, gently point and flex your foot, which provides a subtle stretch for your legs. You can also try stretching your legs before you tuck in, which might help prevent a case of restless leg syndrome as you sleep.

Get Out of Bed

Still can’t find relief? Don’t try to force yourself to sleep through the sensation—it won’t work. Movement is often one of the easiest ways to relieve the uncomfortable feeling, so get up and find a calm, quiet activity that involves activating your leg muscles. You could slowly stroll the hallway, walk up and down stairs, organize a cabinet, or gently kick your legs in a warm bath.