Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
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In this article:
- Leg Cramps Overview
- When Do Leg Cramps Generally Start During Pregnancy?
- What Causes Leg Cramps While Pregnant?
- How Do I Get Leg Cramp Relief During Pregnancy?
- Can I Prevent Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
- When Will Leg Cramping Stop During Pregnancy?
- When Should I See A Doctor About Leg Cramping?
Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
Congratulations! The joys of being pregnant have caught up with you. As you know, not every physical change can be pleasant. Leg cramps are involuntary muscle spasms that squeeze your calves, feet, or sometimes both. It’s nothing to be concerned about. Nearly half of all pregnant women experience pressure or pinching in their lower legs during pregnancy. The aches are temporary and you can ease a lot of your discomfort naturally.
So put your feet up, commiserate with your fellow expecting friends, and read on as we’ve compiled the best ways to ease your leg cramps and how to prevent it.
When Do Leg Cramps Generally Start During Pregnancy?
Leg cramps strike most often in the third trimester, but it isn’t uncommon to start feeling the wincing pain of contracting muscles in your lower limbs as early as fourteen weeks.
Leg cramps will typically bug you in the evening, which isn’t great timing since you’re probably already struggling to get enough shuteye between the constant trips to the bathroom.
Cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to ten minutes. Talk about an unwanted wake up call at night! The uncomfortable pulling might not only impact you physically, but mentally too. Don’t worry. Take a deep breath and focus on other ways to help you relax during pregnancy.
What Causes Leg Cramps While Pregnant?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clearcut answer to this question. The Mayo Clinic has stated there is no definite cause of leg cramps during pregnancy.
With that said, there are some theories.
The American Pregnancy Association believes leg cramps are likely due to all the pressure on your calves and feet as your belly grows. Pinching and pressure on your nerves may also be to blame for the muscle spasms.
Women have 60% more blood flowing through their bodies during pregnancy as compared to normal. The heart is working extra hard to pump blood to the extremities and to the placenta, which is baby’s lifeline. All that blood has to circulate down and back up through the legs. This means taking a load off at the end of the day is crucial to prevent swelling and hopefully any leg cramps.
How Do I Get Leg Cramp Relief During Pregnancy?
Here’s where you can control some of your leg discomfort. It all starts with taking care of your body during pregnancy. By taking care of yourself, you are also taking care of your growing baby. It’s a win-win.
- Stay Active: We’re not talking about running a marathon or joining the Crossfit Games. Just add in some extra walks during your day. Make sure you are moving every hour if you have a desk job to get your blood flowing. It’s good for your body, your baby, and your mind. I know pregnancy fatigue can make it hard to stay active… a fitness watch can help remind you when it’s time to move.
- Stretch It Out: Give your calf muscles a good stretch before bedtime. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds on each side. The easiest way to do this while pregnant is to push your hands against a wall. Stretch one leg behind and lean in on your toes. You will feel the stretch in your calf. The more you stretch, the easier it gets.
- Rotation: Here’s another exercise to keep those leg cramps at bay. Rotate each foot round and round eight times. Do this clockwise and counterclockwise on each foot. You can do this daily with your stretches.
- Hydration: During pregnancy, you should increase the amount of water you drink every day. We’re talking about an extra 300 milliliters. That’s about 1.25 extra cups. It isn’t much, but it makes a big difference. Your muscles need water because it helps prevent cramping. Well, your baby needs it too! Towards the end of your pregnancy, your amniotic fluid (the fluid your baby swims in inside your uterus) is replenished every three hours. Amniotic fluid is mainly comprised of water. Keep a water bottle with you at all times.
- Try Heat: Treat yourself to a cozy bath to loosen those tense muscles. Light some candles, throw in a preggo-approved bath bomb, and read a new book! Jacuzzi heat and sauna heat are not recommended during pregnancy because they can get too hot, but warm baths are just fine. Make sure the bathtub water doesn’t reach a temperature higher than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also try a heating pad or hot washcloth on your calf muscles to relieve some tension.
Can I Prevent Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
Since doctors don’t know what specifically causes leg cramps during pregnancy, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how to prevent them.
Limited studies have shown magnesium helped to prevent leg cramps during pregnancy; check with your health care provider before taking a magnesium supplement. You could also just try eating more yummy magnesium-rich foods like whole grains, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.
In the meantime, these tips are the best known ways to prevent leg cramping during pregnancy:
Stay active, maintain a healthy pregnancy weight, and eat well. Physical exercise and nutrition are essential during those nine-plus months to prevent any unpleasant pregnancy side effects.
Avoid crossing your legs or sitting on one calf while in a chair. This restricts blood flow and pinches your nerves. Consider sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair. An exercise ball (also known as a birth ball) forces you into great posture. It also opens up your pelvis (you’ll appreciate that when you are ready to birth your baby!) and you can’t cross your legs. You can even bring an exercise ball to work. Swap it out with your regular desk chair for a little while. Don’t feel silly, see it as a conversation piece!
Invest in proper shoes and supportive socks. Ditch your high heels, 3 inch wedges, and flat sandals. You’ll get back in those in a few months. Give your feet a break during pregnancy. You’ve earned it. Consider supportive shoes with soles that compliment your arch and distribute your weight correctly. You want footwear that has a strong heel counter—that’s the part of the shoe that surrounds your heel and keeps your foot from slipping out.
Sleep correctly. If you haven’t already, splurge and buy yourself an amazing pregnancy pillow! This will support your growing belly, aching inner thighs, and back. The pillow will stretch between your legs and keep one leg elevated. This will also help with blood flow to your legs. Additionally, try falling asleep on your left side. Sleeping on your left side prevents you from applying pressure to your inferior vena cava which is the vein responsible for returning blood flow from the lower half of your body back to your heart.
When Will Leg Cramping Stop During Pregnancy?
If you’re suffering from leg cramps during pregnancy, use some of the techniques and suggestions previously mentioned to put an end to it. Figure out what your body responds to. Cramps won’t last for more than ten minutes at a time. Unfortunately for some women, complete relief will only come once they give birth to their beautiful baby. Think of the end goal if this applies to you.
When Should I See A Doctor About Leg Cramping?
Constant, chronic leg cramps could be a sign of something more serious like a blood clot. Listen to your body. If you feel like something isn’t right, call your healthcare provider. That’s what they are here for— to take care of you. Call your obstetrician or midwife if you experience the following symptoms:
- Severe Or Chronic Pain
- Disrupting Your Sleep Consistently
- Swelling and Tenderness
- Leg Cramps Accompanied With Anxiety
Mayo Clinic, What Causes Leg Cramps During Pregnancy, and Can They Be Prevented?, April 2016.
Cochrane, Interventions for Leg Cramps During Pregnancy, August 2015.
, Nemours Foundation, Questions and Answers: Leg Cramps, April 2015.
American Pregnancy Association, Pregnancy and Leg Cramps.
- Aly Romot