You may experience a tingling sensation or numbness during pregnancy, which is also described as a ‘pins-and-needles’ sensation. It usually affects the hands, fingers, feet, or legs. Further, the stretching of your belly as your pregnancy progresses can sometimes cause numbness in that region too. Most pregnant women experience these symptoms at some point during their pregnancy.
Read this post to learn more about numbness during pregnancy, including whether it is normal, its symptoms, the possible causes, how to treat and manage it, how to prevent it, and whether numbness is an early sign of pregnancy.
Is Numbness Normal In Pregnancy?
Numbness is usually normal, as the uterus grows and presses against the nerves supplying the legs. You may also experience tingling in your hands and fingers, especially after you wake up in the morning. These sensations are likely to go away after delivery (1).
If you experience other symptoms, such as abdominal contractions, pain, bleeding, blurry vision, or swelling, along with numbness, consult your doctor.
Symptoms Of Numbness During Pregnancy
In addition to numbness in your fingers, hands, legs, and feet, you are likely to experience other symptoms, such as:
- Tickling, burning, itching, and crawling sensation under the skin
- Radiating pain
- Slurred speech
- Loss of bladder or bowel control (2)
These symptoms may keep you awake at night. They usually occur in the middle or end of your pregnancy, along with weight gain and water retention.
Possible Causes Of Numbness and Tingling In Pregnancy
The common causes of numbness or tingling sensation include:
1. Hormonal changes, especially an increase in the levels of relaxin hormone that stretches the ligaments with growing pregnancy, may shift your center of gravity and affect your posture. This could lead to nerve compression (or pinching), resulting in pain and burning sensation around the thighs, legs, back, and buttocks (3).
2. Bodily changes, Growth of the uterus could put pressure on the muscles, nerves, and ligaments, causing numbness and tingling sensations (1).
3. Water retention that occurs in the second and third trimesters could cause swelling of hands and feet (4). This swelling may also contribute to numbness in the extremities and may put pressure or cause pain in the surrounding area (5).
4. Numbness in hands and fingers may develop due to carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) that occurs when pressure is built upon the median nerve of the wrist due to water retention. It is one of the common complications in pregnancy, and one study reports of its frequency as high as 62%. You may experience symptoms such as:
- Numbness or tingling in the thumb, index, middle finger, or radial half of the hand
- Dysesthetic wrist pain (pain due to burning sensation)
- Loss of grip strength and dexterity (difficulty grasping objects)
- Radiating pain in forearm and shoulder
These symptoms are likely to be worse at night and aggravate during forceful activity and change in wrist position (6).
Numbness in the legs, back, and rear could be caused due to two conditions – sciatica and meralgia paresthetica.
5. Sciatica, which is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve, affects around 30% of pregnant women (7). It may occur from weight gain and water retention that put extra pressure over the spine and sciatic nerve. Along with the numbness and tingling sensations, you may experience other symptoms, such as pain, burning, and muscle weakness in your leg, lower back, buttocks, and hips (8).
6. Meralgia paresthetica occurs from the compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve (LFCN) that supplies sensation to the lateral aspect (front and side) of the thigh. It is likely to cause numbness, tingling, or burning sensation in the thigh. The symptoms may be confined to one leg and could intensify with standing or walking (9).
Numbness and tingling could also be symptoms of certain pregnancy-related conditions. Therefore, check with your doctor to figure out what exactly is causing numbness.
7. Iron-deficiency anemia could lead to restless leg syndrome, which is a neurological disorder where you may suffer from the irresistible urge to move your legs. You will experience tingling or a crawling sensation in the legs (10).
8. B12 deficiency might result in nerve damage that could cause numbness or tingling of fingers and toes, which in most circumstances is temporary and can be treated. Other symptoms include muscle weakness, memory loss, impaired balance, and behavioral changes (11).
9. Pre-eclampsia leads to the swelling of legs, hands, face, and sometimes the entire body. It could be a potential cause for numbness, and if combined with headache, visual changes, breathing difficulty, nausea, or vomiting, it needs medical attention (12).
10. Gestational diabetes may cause pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet. It is accompanied by frequent urination, fatigue, blurry vision, frequent hunger, and excessive thirst. It could raise the risk of type 2 diabetes later in life, and therefore needs proper management (13).
How To Deal With Pregnancy Numbness?
These remedies may help manage numbness or tingling in hands, fingers, legs, back, or rear during pregnancy.
- Soaking your hands in warm water or using a hot compress may ease numbness.
- Do not rest on your hands while sleeping as it could intensify the numbness and pain.
- Check with your doctor about using a wrist brace. You may use it, especially while sleeping, to keep your wrist in a neutral position.
- Stretch your hands and wrists while doing any activity continuously. Repetitive motions such as shaking or rubbing could relieve tingling and pain (14).
- Sleepy freely to the side that is not affected by any numbness or pain.
- Ice compress may help reduce swelling that could otherwise cause numbness.
- Alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massage therapy could relieve pain associated with numbness.
- Do not stand for extended periods as it could aggravate the numbness or tingling sensation in the legs and toes.
- You may sleep to one side with both the knees drawn up and a pillow in between the knees. This may reduce the chance of numbness.
- While sitting, you may slightly flex your knees so that they are at the level of hips or higher than them (7).
- Use a walker or cane to move around if you find difficulty balancing your body.
- Check with your doctor and try mild exercises that could strengthen your muscles (15).
Treatment For Numbness In Pregnancy
Treatment for numbness or tingling sensation depends on its cause. Your doctor might suggest non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines to treat the pain associated with numbness (16).
Can You Prevent Numbness?
You may not be able to prevent numbness but can reduce its chances by making some changes to your diet and lifestyle.
- Include a healthy and balanced diet to gain healthy pregnancy weight. Cut down on salt, sugar, and fats, and drink enough water. Take the necessary supplements by checking with your doctor.
- Stay away from alcohol as the toxins in it may lead to nerve damage and cause numbness.
- Minimize the time spent on activities such as typing, knitting, or sewing, especially if you are at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Get a supportive maternity bra that may take off the weight from your breastbone and rib cage that may otherwise apply pressure on the median nerve.
- A correct posture is important while sitting, standing, or sleeping.
- Use well-fitting, non-skid shoes that have soft soles.
Is Numbness A Sign Of Early Pregnancy?
Numbness is not likely to be a sign of pregnancy unless it is caused by carpal tunnel syndrome (common in pregnancy). It occurs when there is water buildup in the tissues of the wrist, which may squeeze the median nerve running down to hands and fingers. This could, therefore, cause numbness and a tingling sensation (6).
Numbness during pregnancy could be due to several factors, and it usually resolves on its own after childbirth. You could try a calming foot bath or a massage to calm your legs. Check your sleeping positions and avoid positions that trigger any numbness. Avoid activities or garments that may further enhance the pressure on the major nerves, leading to numbness. Inform your doctor if the numbness is interfering with your activities. By identifying the underlying cause, your health professional will guide you towards a solution.
Infographic: Conditions That Increase The Risk Of Pregnancy Numbness
Besides the known causes, certain common and uncommon conditions in pregnancy can cause numbness. So give this infographic a read to understand the different risk factors for numbness during pregnancy.
2. Numbness in Hands: When to Call the Doctor; Cleveland Clinic
3. Shalini Shah et al.; Pain Management in Pregnancy: Multimodal Approaches; Pain Research and Treatment; Hindawi Journals (2015)
4. The Third Trimester; University of Rochester Medical Center
5. Causes and signs of edema; Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) (2016)
6. Ablove RH and Ablove TS; Prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnant women; WMJ (2009)
7. Sciatica; OB-GYN 101: Introductory Obstetrics & Gynecology; Medical Education Division
8. Abdul-Wahab T. Al-Khodairy et al.; Sciatica in the female patient: anatomical considerations, aetiology and review of the literature; European Spine Journal (2007)
9. Meralgia paresthetica; NCH Healthcare System (2018)
10. Your Guide to Anemia; United States Department of Health & Human Services; NIH (2011)
11. Bruce H.R. Wolffenbuttel et al.; The Many Faces of Cobalamin (Vitamin B12) Deficiency; Mayo Clin Proc Innov Qual Outcomes (2019)
12. Preeclampsia And Eclampsia; Harvard Health Publishing (2018)
13. Diabetes; Washington State Department of Health
14. Ask the doctor: What causes tingling hands at night; Harvard Health Publishing (2012)
15. Tingling or Numbness over Hands or Feet (Peripheral Neuropathy); National Cancer Centre Singapore
16. Chalelgn Kassaw and Nasir Tajure Wabe; Pregnant Women and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs; North American Journal of Medical Sciences (2012)