Leg cramps are an uncomfortable, yet common pregnancy symptom that may start to plague you in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Pregnant women describe leg cramps as a sudden tightening of their leg muscles, which causes pain.
You have painful leg cramps, especially at night or when you’re sleeping. Pregnancy leg cramps can be such a bother that you wake up in the middle of the night in pain. Leg cramps in pregnancy can also occur in the daytime.
Leg cramps in pregnancy are typically the most painful in the last months of pregnancy (the third trimester), but they can start in the late second trimester. If you suffer from pregnancy leg cramps, they may get progressively worse as your pregnancy week by week continues.
Causes of Leg Cramps in Pregnancy
Experts aren’t exactly sure why pregnant women suffer from more leg cramps during pregnancy. One theory is that your legs are exhausted from carrying around all your pregnancy weight. Another idea is that the pressure of your heavy uterus adds more pressure on the blood vessels that transport blood from your lower extremities (legs and feet) to your heart.
Pregnancy leg cramps can also be triggered by a lack of fluids (dehydration), injury to your leg muscles, muscle strain, and you staying in the same position for an extended period of time.
In the past, researchers believed that leg cramps were caused by too little calcium in a woman’s diet. Calcium deficiency is no longer linked to leg cramps, but it’s still important that all pregnant women get enough calcium in their diet.
(Calcium helps your baby’s bones and teeth grow strong and healthy. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, the developing baby will rob it from your nutritional stores, and you may end up with osteoporosis in the future.)
How to Prevent Pregnancy Leg Cramps
Leg cramps are an unpleasant pregnancy symptom, and while there is no way that you can completely prevent pregnancy leg cramps from striking, there are a number of preventative measures you can take, including:
- Drinking plenty of water during the day. Dehydration may trigger pregnancy leg cramps. If water isn’t appetizing to you, consider drinking Gatorade or juice to keep you hydrated.
- Avoid staying still for too long. Don’t stand or sit in the same position for an extended period of time. You’ll also want to avoid sitting in any position that might restrict blood flow – like crossing your legs.
- Exercise can help prevent pregnancy leg cramps. If you’re having a normal pregnancy (and you’re not “high risk” for any complications), moderate exercise is considered safe. Take a daily walk to help prevent leg cramps in pregnancy.
- Do some stretches before you go to bed. Stretching your calves can help minimize pregnancy leg cramps.
- There’s growing evidence that taking a magnesium supplement, in addition to your regular prenatal vitamin may help prevent this pregnancy symptom.
Tips to Relieve Leg Cramps in Pregnancy
Sometimes, no matter what preventative measures that you take, pregnancy leg cramps will strike. Unfortunately, they are a normal pregnancy symptom to expect, and they are just another ache that you must suffer through for your baby.
Here are a few tips to relieve leg cramps in pregnancy.
- When a pregnancy leg cramps strikes, straighten your leg (heel first) and wiggle your toes toward your shins. Doing this may give you some pain at first, but eventually, the spasm will go away and you’ll get relief from this pregnancy symptom.
- Apply gentle massage to the leg cramp. You can also heat the affected muscle using a hot water bottle or a warm towel. A heating pad may also help you feel better.
Leg cramps are a normal pregnancy symptom, however if you experience any tenderness or swelling in your leg, call your midwife or doctor. This may be a sign of a blood clot. (Blood clots are rare, but the changes that occur in blood circulation puts pregnant women at higher risk for developing them.)