Sleep is becoming increasingly difficult now that you’re pregnant. You find yourself tossing and turning all night long, and now something else is keeping you up at night: leg cramps. Leg cramps during pregnancy are more prominent than when you’re not pregnant, and the cramps have a way of radiating up and down your legs – ouch.
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What Causes Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
The problem with leg cramps is that doctors don’t know what causes them. While cramping is very common during pregnancy, there is no way to pinpoint the cause. Most doctors just assume that it’s part of pregnancy.
There are a few theories as to the potential reason why pregnant women get cramps:
- Compression: The blood vessels in your legs become compressed as you gain additional weight. Added compression on the blood vessels may lead to aches, pains and cramps. Your uterus is also putting added pressure on your blood vessels, which may be an issue.
- Fatigue: Your body is under a lot of stress, and adding additional pregnancy weight makes matters even worse. Doctors suggest that the leg muscles may become fatigued, leading to cramping at night.
- Dietary Changes: Your baby is hungry, and she’s stealing the nutrients that mom’s body needs too. A lack of calcium or magnesium may be to blame for the cramping. And if you’re not increasing your fluids, there is a chance that the lack of water is also leading to cramps.
These are just a few of the theories that medical professionals have as to why you may be suffering from leg cramps while you sleep. It’s also plausible that if you have leg cramps normally they’ll get worse when you’re pregnant.
The good news is that leg cramps aren’t a major concern. Yes, they’re an inconvenience and will keep you up at night, but they will not have any lasting side effects.
When Do Leg Cramps First Start?
Women who are in their first trimester, or the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy, will normally not experience leg cramps. Your body is just starting to adapt to being pregnant, and all of the internal changes have not yet reached their maximum potential. Hormone levels are still rising, you’ll gain weight slowly at first, and most mothers feel great when they’re at the start of their pregnancy.
But once you hit the second trimester your body will be undergoing more changes in preparation for your baby, and this is when most women will experience pregnancy leg cramps.
If you’re lucky enough to escape leg cramps during your second trimester, there is a good chance you’ll start experiencing them during the third trimester. Most women note cramping during the second and third trimester, while few women note cramping during their first trimester.
But if you don’t experience any leg cramps, that is fine, too – you’re lucky.
What to Expect When Having Leg Cramps
Every ache and pain seems to be amplified when you’re pregnant. Women who have leg cramps will be able to easily identify them by the area where the cramping occurs. Leg cramps during pregnancy can be felt in your:
Oftentimes, the cramping will occur in both the calf and foot at the same time. The pain can be severe or mild, and you likely won’t feel the pain any higher than the calf muscle.
Pain can be severe for a few seconds to minutes, or it can be mild and throb for several minutes at a time. The severe pain can be enough to wake you up out of your sleep.
8 Quick Fixes for Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
You have leg cramps – along with aches and pains – and all you want is to have a good night’s sleep. There are a few steps you can take to help combat the cramping, and hopefully alleviate the pain in the long term.
1. Stretch Your Calves
Stretching is highly recommended, although there is no evidence that points to stretching stopping cramps. Many women find relief when they stretch because it loosens the calf muscle, which, normally, is the key factor in cramping. You can stretch your calves by:
- Standing an arm’s length away from a wall.
- Placing both hands on the wall in front of you.
- Placing the toes of one foot against the base of the wall.
- Placing the opposing foot behind you for added support and balance.
- Bending your front leg while keeping the back leg straight and your foot flush on the floor.
- Bending until the calf gets a good stretch, and hold for 30 seconds.
- Repeating on the other side.
Dietary supplements should be discussed with your doctor prior to usage. But there are two supplements that have helped many women alleviate leg cramps: magnesium and calcium. Calcium will help with your baby’s development, while magnesium increases blood flow and has been linked to alleviating cramping during pregnancy. Again, always consult with your doctor before taking any supplement. Bonus: Magnesium can come in cream form, too – ideal for people that have difficulty swallowing pills.
3. Drink More Water
Athletes will start to get cramps because they do not drink enough water. And as a mother-to-be, your baby will be absorbing much of the water your body requires. A good way to determine if you’re dehydrated is to look at the color of your urine. If your urine is yellow or dark, it’s time to drink more water. Studies also show that when you feel slightly thirsty, you’re already slightly dehydrated. Drink 2 – 3 more cups of water per day, and see if the cramping subsides.
4. Stay Active
Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you can’t exercise and stay active. While you may not want to lift extremely heavy weights while pregnant, you can try walking, running, tennis, swimming, or other forms of similar exercise. Not only will staying active ensure that you’re in good health, but you’ll also be boosting your blood flow and cardiovascular health. Many pregnancy experts recommend swimming as an exercise that can be done at all times throughout pregnancy.
5. Buy New Shoes
An unfortunate side effect of pregnancy is that everything gets bigger. One of the things that will start to grow is your feet. Added pressure on your feet can cause you to have foot and calf pain, too. Comfortable shoes that are wide enough for your feet are recommended and may provide you with some relief from cramping.
6. Warm Bath
One of my favorite ways to relieve cramping is to take a warm bath before bed. A bath will help to relax your muscles and alleviate stress while also contributing to added blood flow.
A quick calf massage before bed will help boost circulation and will help to alleviate pain. If you are in the middle of a bad leg cramp, don’t hesitate to massage the area to help reduce the pain, too.
8. Elevate Your Feet
In the event that your legs and ankles are swollen, try to alleviate your feet when sitting or lying down to reduce the swelling. Not only will the swelling be relieved, but this will alleviate some pressure on the feet and legs that can cause fatigue and potential cramps.
If nothing has been working to alleviate your leg cramps, you can also consult with your doctor. Severe cramps may be a sign of a blood clot and will need to be further examined by a medical professional at this time.
The good news is that the cramps will go away after pregnancy.
Painkillers or pain relievers are normally not recommended as a form of treatment as they will also be passed on to the baby, which may result in development and growth complications.