Not just restless legs; I’m 100% fidgety
Around one in five pregnant women, suffer restless leg syndrome towards the end of the third trimester, but for some, the feelings of agitation, impatience and edginess manifest themselves in a total inability to relax.
Below, one mother remembers how she overcame a period of late pregnancy that was beset with restlessness, sleeplessness and the urge to fidget.
A personal history of restlessness
I was one of those girls who could never, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I planned, no matter how much I physically exhausted myself, sleep properly before an exam.
And the same has been true for pretty much every single landmark in my life. Job interview on a Tuesday morning? Can’t sleep on the Monday night. Long drive to Scotland on Thursday? Can’t sleep on Wednesday. Getting married on Saturday? Can’t sleep for a week beforehand. You get the picture
Somehow I thought I’d escape this during pregnancy or, to be more precise, I just didn’t think it would apply. This was for two reasons. Firstly, I believed that our bodies have evolved to be optimised for pregnancy and childbirth, so there would be no evolutionary benefit in sleeplessness; secondly, I (quite rightly) imagined that pregnancy would be so exhausting that sleep would be an inevitability.
What I didn’t bargain on was that not only would I be restless, uncomfortable, excited, and anxious but that I would also be, at times, so wired it was as if I’d downed a gallon of espresso. As the doctor told me, “You don’t have to have restless legs syndrome to have chronically restless legs.”
I tried all manner of things to try and get myself to “go down easy”. I even fought against my gathering tiredness and physical discomfort to up my daily quotient of pregnancy yoga. But as for a result? Well, there was none.
I even tried using the portable womb sound machine my husband had bought in readiness for baby. Did it work? Of course not.
Meeting with my NCT friends I was mightily relieved to learn that I was not alone. Based on our shared experiences, I’d say that feelings of restlessness are relatively common in the later stages of pregnancy and it got me thinking that maybe there was an evolutionary advantage. A pregnant woman lying inert under a tree in the savannah is presumably easy prey. Our early ancestors may have been much safer busily moving about and may even have utilised this energy in order to carry out a little nest building.
That said, I did discover, that although I couldn’t necessarily sleep as much as I would like to, I was able to temper my more fidgety instincts with some neat tricks.
How to fight the fidget
Before the end of my pregnancy I’d practised plenty of yoga but was a complete novice when it came to meditation. However, my husband downloaded a meditation app onto my phone and this really did help me find some calm.
I would wait until an hour or two after eating so that my metabolism had settled and then would make myself comfortable in a low-lit room so that I could focus and thereby soothe my desperately overworked mind.
I also learned to keep away from all forms of screen for a few hours before bed. As difficult as I found this – it meant keeping away from the various pregnancy websites and forums that were helping me learn so much about my pregnancy – I also kept away from the news, as well as any scary or sensationalist television programmes. I also refrained from reading baby and parenting books at bedtime – these are invaluable for daytime reading, but at night they just fuelled my brain for a night time of restlessness, and I needed to give myself every possible chance at calm.
What worked for me might not work for everyone, but if you’re having trouble, it is certainly worth giving it a try.