Disclaimer: This information is of a general nature, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Newborn Mothers is not a medical service and Julia Jones is not a licensed medical professional. We do not diagnose, treat or cure any illness or condition. Should you have any health concerns, please get in touch with your midwife or doctor.
Today’s topic is natural remedies for your poor, sore legs. I know pregnancy can really put a lot of stress on your legs. As your belly swells and swells, your legs can bear the brunt of all of that weight. And it can leave you in a lot of discomfort and even some pain.
We’re going to cover three different kinds of very common leg pain during pregnancy. The first one is hip ache, the second one is calf cramps, and the third is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS).
By the end of this I hope you’ll be feeling more comfortable. You’ll be able to sit more comfortably, you’ll be able to walk more comfortably and you’ll be able to sleep more comfortably. I’ll be telling you a little bit about how and why these different leg pains and aches can happen, and a few little tips of what you can do to ease them, or even avoid them altogether.
It’s All In The Hips
Number one is hip ache. If you’ve got aching hips, it often happens at night. Some people have such loose hips they feel like their legs are just going to fall off; like their joints are really open. This is actually, interestingly, more common in women of Scandinavian descent.
No one exactly knows why this happens, but it’s probably related to your posture during sleep. Which is why it’s always worse at night. You can try sleeping on your side with a bolster to lift the knee to hip height, so your leg is going in straight parallel angles to the bed.
You can put a thin pillow or even just a folded blanket underneath your tummy, just to help take a little bit of pressure off those ligaments that are stretching to hold your belly. And if you wake up sore in the night it’s a bit of a debacle, but you have to roll over and rearrange all of your pillows and blankets, and get comfy in another position.
One thing that can really helps with these loose, open-feeling hips is a yoga posture that can help you strengthen those hip joints a little bit. If you sit with one leg straight and one bent in a half-butterfly position, you push the bent knee to the side and use your hand for resistance. And do the same to push the knee up and use your hand to resist. Push the knee down and push to resist, again. You’re giving your leg something to work against. Have a try at that; you’d have to do it regularly for it to make a difference. It’s not a quick fix.
In general, if you are going to be doing any yoga (or other exercises), avoid hip opening postures like butterflies. Because of all that lovely relaxing, you’re very loose and you can easily get yourself overstretched and into more pain. Try strengthening those hip sockets, rather than opening them even more.
And the last one of all is, give thanks to your body for opening for your baby. Sometimes when we can’t avoid the pain in life (which is often), it can help if we just try and see it in a more positive light. So when you are in pain and your hips and legs feel like they’re going to fall out, then just give thanks to your body for opening for your baby.
Walk The Walk
Number two is calf cramps. If those baby cows are giving you grief, it’s probably due to vata. This is commonly a vata problem, if you’re familiar with Ayurveda. It’s common in pregnancy because of changes. Vata is to do with change, and obviously in pregnancy it can be high. It’s especially sore at night again; all of these three leg problems are worse at night.
There’s a few things you can do to prevent it. One of them is to avoid sitting with your legs crossed. You want to walk a lot, move a lot, wriggle your toes and keep that circulation going. And stretch! You really want to stretch those calves out. Down Dog is safe to do until 36 weeks, or until you find it uncomfortable. As a general guide, it’s safe to do Down Dog until 36 weeks, but if you find it uncomfortable, you should stop immediately. As always with yoga, be guided by your own comfort and your own body.
Another thing that can help to prevent those calf cramps is drinking lots of water. Calf cramps, and cramps in general, can be due to dehydration. Make sure you’re staying really well hydrated. And sometimes, if water doesn’t feel like enough, you can have some fatty foods as well (like ghee, coconut oil, and maybe some milk). Pregnancy is one of the only times in a woman’s life, or in anyone’s life, that Ayurveda recommends you drink cold milk. Cold milk is generally thought to be very difficult to digest, but in pregnancy you’ve got very hot digestion, and drinking cold milk can be helpful.
So, once you have a calf cramp there are a few things you can do to help it as well. One is massage. Give it a good rub, grab it really hard and squeeze it. Just try and do something to rub that out.
You can put some warm sesame oil on daily, particularly black sesame oil if you can get it (organic). You can use this daily; it penetrates all seven of the tissues, making it super good for getting really deep and helping with those calf cramps (and lots of other problems as well).
You can try using hot packs, cold packs, and a bath can really help too. When you’ve actually got the cramp, it can help to just get straight in the bath. And another thing whilst you’re in the bath that you can do to prevent it is, put some magnesium epsom salts in the bath. Six or so handfuls in a bath full of water (you need to use quite a lot), and this is because salt balances vata. Cramps can be caused by a magnesium deficiency and this can help. If you want to take a magnesium supplement, I recommend you see a Naturopath or an Ayurvedic practitioner; someone who can help you find the right magnesium supplement for you.
A Leg Up
Onto number three: Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). This is one that can drive people absolutely bonkers! It’s an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, and it can keep you awake at night. I had a pregnant friend who said that she slept so much better after the baby was born than during her pregnancy because her RLS was so bad.
No one knows why it happens, except it could be genetic. It’s often worse when you stop moving, and it can cause burning and tingling, and it can feel like your legs are crawling. It can be really, really uncomfortable and drive people a little bit insane.
The most important thing to know about RLS is the drugs that are often prescribed for RLS are not safe during pregnancy, so make sure your see your GP or midwife. You can ask them whilst you’re there about some natural supplements. Iron, magnesium, B12 and folate are all thought to possibly help with RLS. But you have to bear in mind that if you’re taking a prenatal supplement already (a general prenatal vitamin), it probably contains some or a lot of all of these things in it. So just make sure you chat with your GP or midwife to find out what is safe and what’s a good amount to take during pregnancy.
So if you have RLS, it can help to stretch. Stretch those legs out, keep them moving, have a massage, or use a hot or cold pack (a lot of these are the same for all of the leg problems!).
It’s also a really good opportunity to practice your coping techniques for birth. Breathing, meditation, hypnobirthing; whatever coping techniques you’re hoping to use to get through labour. It’s a really good chance to practice them now.
And my last little tip for RLS, and my absolute favourite, is masturbation. Lots and lots of people with RLS have found that oxytocin can really help. Not only because it can stop the RLS temporarily, but it can also put you to sleep. Because one of the main problems with RLS is that you can’t sleep (the insomnia that comes with it), oxytocin works on two levels.
Lots of people use oxytocin nasal sprays; they’ll keep one under their pillow and spray a bit on their pillow when they go to sleep at night. I’m not a huge fan of oxytocin nasal sprays, and they’re not easy to get a hold of. I recommend you masturbate, because oxytocin is released during an organism. You can have sex if you’ve got someone willing, or you can masturbate. Anything that will increase your oxytocin can help to pause that RLS and help you drift off to sleep.
So, if you enjoyed this article please share it with a friend, particularly if you have a pregnant friend who has got poor, sore legs. They really can be such a pain and really uncomfortable, so I’m sure they would really appreciate it if you can pass this on.
I hope that today you’ve learnt some ways to sit more comfortably, walk more comfortably and sleep more comfortably. And if you’ve got a question that you’d like me to answer on my weekly free pregnancy podcast, you can submit it using the form below.