As any woman who is pregnant, or has ever been pregnant, will tell you, sometimes pregnancy feels like the possible side effects list of the latest FDA approved drug. Pregnancy may or may not cause fatigue, nausea, constipation, heartburn, edema, increased sex drive, decreased sex drive, headaches, congestion, varicose veins, insomnia, carpal tunnel, pelvic pain, dizziness, low blood pressure, and high blood pressure. Among other things.
Are your gums bleeding? It’s probably because you’re pregnant.
You kind of feel like there’s lightning striking your crotch? Yeah, that’s a thing.
For me, it was the odd sensation that I absolutely had to move my legs whenever I would lie down that came close to being the breaking point for me during my second pregnancy. It wasn’t that I loved the nausea, constipation, fatigue, clogged sinuses, or headaches that I also experienced. But those afflictions felt justified. I knew that my digestive tract was slowing down, that my body was doing a lot of extra work, and that pregnant woman tend to experience swelling because of the increased blood volume in their bodies. However, due to all of this extra work and weight, this swelling in my nose and ache in my head, I wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest at the end of the day. Surely, pregnancy could grant me that. Apparently not. Having never run more than a few blocks before my daughter was born (and then only because it was raining) I was unfamiliar with the NEED to move my legs. During my pregnancy, though, that is exactly the urge that I felt. Unbeknownst to me, my legs had signed up for a nightly marathon training program and we were woefully behind. I’d sit on the couch to watch TV or lie on my bed to read before sleeping, and my legs would send furious memos to my brain completely contradicting the rest of my body’s desire for rest.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is experienced by approximately 16% of pregnant women, usually toward the end of the 2nd trimester and throughout the 3rd, with the 7th and 8th months generally being the peak. A disorder characterized most often by a strong desire to move one’s legs, RLS, like so many other pregnancy ailments, is not specific to pregnancy. It is more than a little annoying and, as far as I can discern, serves no purpose other than said annoyance. Those well wishers who jokingly (ha.) tell pregnant women experiencing insomnia that “it’s just their body preparing them for the lack of sleep they’ll soon experience with a newborn” are both very unfunny and also wrong. Unlike pregnancy sleep, the sleep you will experience after your baby arrives is the sleep of the dead. You will fall asleep in seconds. There will be epic dreaming and possibly more epic drooling. It’s kind of amazing, even considering the infant you will need to care for in some capacity every 45 minutes or so. And it is nothing like the rest you desperately attempt while dealing with restless legs, or any other sleep robber of pregnancy.
If you struggle with this urge to move right when you most need the rest, there are a few things that you can try, some of them even yoga related. It was most helpful to me to take a hot bath, and stretch my legs for about ten minutes immediately before going to bed to sleep at night. Other women tout cold packs, self or partner massage, bananas (presumably for the magnesium), and even placing a bar of soap under a fitted sheet at the end of your bed.
Regardless of its impact on the sensations in your legs, a little yoga before bed is never a bad thing. When I was pregnant, I focused on working as many planes of my legs as I could, to cover all of the restless bases.
- Start by sitting in baddha konasana. On an inhalation, draw your knees toward your body and pull gently on your ankles, lifting your gaze. As you exhale, drop your chin toward your chest and round your back as much as you are able as you allow your knees to release back out to either side. Repeat this several times.
- Stretch both legs out to either side for a wide legged forward fold, taking care not to overstretch. Alternate between flexing your feet and pointing your toes.
- If it works for your body, come in to Pigeon prep pose and hold for several breaths on either side. Alternatively, if pigeon is not comfortable, come into figure 4 pose, with your lower leg either bent or straight.
- Finish with some intuitive movement and stretching.
- I wish you calm legs and rest-filled nights!
I will also end by saying that, though RLS can be a pregnancy challenge with no apparent cause, it is something certainly worth mentioning to your care provider, as it can also be indicative of low iron levels. My own levels were deemed low enough to require outpatient iron infusions for two weeks toward the end of my pregnancy. So, instead of lying in my own bed with twitchy legs, I spent several hours in a hospital bed every day. Yoga helps, but even it can’t touch hematocrit levels.