Aching legs in pregnancy

Ooh! Me achin' legs! Common enough when you're pregnant, sure - but why do we get 'em and how on earth can we get rid of 'em?!

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If your legs feel like lead while you’re pregnant, you’re not alone; over half of us suffer with aching and tired legs in pregnancy.

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“The aches happen due to increased blood volume and because your legs have to support a whole lot more of you than usual,” explains Boots UK Pharmacist, Angela Chalmers.

“You’re also adjusting to ferrying around a body that’s carrying more of its weight out front.”

Charming. Oh well, suppose it’s just another lovely pregnancy niggle to look forward to…!

Well, sorry to be the bearer of more bad news, but the aches and pains can actually start fairly early on in pregnancy as the body is flooded with oestrogen and progesterone.

And as we get heavier and larger, they really go into over-drive.

“I had achy legs with all 3 of my boys. Drove me mad by the end of my pregnancies and dh with me moaning about them lol,” mumof3blues on our forum tells us.

Angela Chalmers explains: “Your growing uterus is also putting pressure on the veins whose job it is to carry blood back from your lower body – this partially blocks the blood flow, keeping fluid in your legs and feet and making them feel swollen and tired.”

And it’s often worse at night, when we’re horizontal-ish in bed, desperately trying to get some shut eye. Typical…

As forum mum cookieandcream says: “I’ve started getting really achy and crampy legs when i’m in bed.”

It’s all about the circulation

Leg aches are all to do with circulation, so be on the look out for other such glamorous side effects as varicose veins.

Another of our forum-posters, supersquish, explains it like this: “Sounds like your growing belly putting pressure on you nerves and vessels! I used to get restless legs with my first with is similar, was very annoying! Sounds normal.”

You should also be aware that the dull ache of leg pains is not the same as the sharper, more acute pain of leg cramps in pregnancy.

So what can I do to relieve the ache?

Anything that improves your circulation should have the knock on effect of alleviating leg ache.

Here are our 6 top tips:

  • Elevate your legs – Raising your legs above your heart will help improve circulation.  Simply put a couple of cushions under your ankles when sitting or lying down at night.
  • Sleep on the left side – as well as improving blood flow to your baby, it relieves pressure on the vena cava, the largest vein leading to the heart
  • Uncross your legs – it might feel comfy but sitting cross legged is a big no-no if you want to improve blood flow.
  • Get moving – Ironically, taking your bump for a walk might stop your legs aching. Just half an hour should get the circulation going and relieve the pain.
  • Wear loose clothing – Back away from the skinny jeans (or buy stretchy maternity ones!) Anything too tight around your body will hinder circulation.
  • Massage – if all else fails get someone to give your legs and ankles a good going over, or better still get your other half to do it.

What can I do to stop it happening in the first place?

Sadly, aching legs are just part and parcel of life with a baby on board, but prolific sufferers like mrs_platt2b do have some personal avoidance techniques.

“I have a few tips for you all tho that i have required over the year:
1. Keep your legs elevated as much as poss, ideally above your heart to allow for better circulation.
2. When your legs are achy i have found walking along a really cold surface or however you can keep them cold (my mum also swears by this who has suffered with restless legs since being pregnant with me
3. Bananna’s are very good apparently, also cutting out as much caffeine as much a poss, i dnt have any caffeeine at all now and have found it really helps
4. Magnesium or iron deficiency has been known to be a cause of achy, bad circulated, visit a health food shop and speak to them about vitamins.”

And what if it’s something more serious?

It’s natural to worry that aching legs may be a sign of something more serious: “I was just worried in case it was a sign of DVT or something,” says forum user HappyArchie. “I suppose being pregnant, we all worry constantly about our changing bodies.”

Thankfully, aching legs by themselves are not generally a cause for concern.  But if it develops into a constant muscle pain and is accompanied by swelling, you should consult a doctor to rule out a blood clot.

Likewise, if your legs are swollen and your face is also swollen and puffy and you have headaches, see your GP or midwife asap. These could be signs of pre-eclampsia.

Some women suffer from restless legs syndrome during pregnancy – think jittery, can’t-stop-moving limbs – and this typically happens at night. Again, like aching legs, it’s not serious but it can be very annoying.

So, in a nutshell, try not to worry – all these aches and pains, annoyances, niggles and downright complaints are merely small stones on the road to becoming a mother.

And if you need somewhere to offload and have a good old moan, check out our forums where a problem shared is always a problem solved. Or at least acknowledged by like-minded souls!

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