Leg cramping during pregnancy is common and may be quite painful. The good news is you can relieve leg cramps during pregnancy with self-help techniques.
Almost everyone has experienced leg cramps — those painful, involuntary muscle contractions that can hit your calf, seemingly out of the blue. Often the cause is simply dehydration or a muscle strain from exercise.
But there’s another condition frequently linked to leg cramps — pregnancy. In fact, almost half of pregnant women report having painful muscle spasms in their legs from time to time.
Leg cramps during pregnancy are most likely to occur during the second and, especially, third trimesters. Because they frequently strike at night, uncomfortable muscle contractions can disrupt sleep and leave you feeling extra tired in the morning.
The exact reason leg cramps during pregnancy develop isn’t clear. However, they may be caused by pressure from the growing baby on nerves and blood vessels that go to your legs, as well as from changes in circulation and weight gain associated with pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Look: Ways to prevent and relieve leg cramps during pregnancy
Get moving to prevent and relieve leg cramping during pregnancy. However, always talk to your doctor before attempting any new exercise routine if you’re pregnant. If you get the OK from your obstetrician, try being more physically active.
Simply going for regular walks may help you avoid leg cramps. Gentle yoga classes, designed specifically for pregnant women, may lower the odds of frequent muscle cramps, as well.
Discuss your diet and pre-natal supplements with your doctor, too. Meals rich in magnesium and calcium may lessen leg cramps.
If your cramps are persistent or very severe, don’t hesitate to contact your obstetrician ASAP. And never take any pain relievers for muscle cramps (or anything else) while pregnant without first talking to your healthcare provider.
More self-help for leg cramps during pregnancy
- Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water during the day can help prevent or reduce leg cramping.
- Massage your calf muscle. Use long, downward strokes to soothe leg cramps during pregnancy, the March of Dimes advises.
- Take a hot shower or a warm bath.
- Gently stretch your calf muscles and feet.
- Try an ice pack to relieve leg cramps.
- While you are expecting, wear comfortable shoes that provide firm support.
- Rest with your legs elevated.
- Wearing support stockings may help leg cramping during pregnancy.
We can’t emphasize this enough: Leg pain may be more than cramps
If you are traveling a long distance, by car or plane, and sitting for several hours, you have an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) — a blood clot in the veins in your legs or other areas of your body that can travel to your lungs and be life-threatening. Pregnancy alone increases your risk of DVT, and sitting for several hours magnifies the risk, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) points out.
Don’t assume any pain in your calf is simply a leg cramp due to pregnancy. Pain accompanied by redness, warmth to the touch, or leg cramps that are especially severe may indicate a DVT. If you have any of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately.
To lower your chances of developing DVT on a trip, ACOG recommends pregnant women take these steps:
- Drink plenty of fluids while traveling.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Stand and stretch at regular intervals when possible on a plane and, when traveling by car, make frequent stops to get out and stretch your legs.
September 20, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN