With the constant midnight bathroom trips and late night baby activity, there’s no doubt you’ll struggle to sleep. But to make matters worse, you’ll likely experience leg cramps during pregnancy while sleeping.
Leg cramps can be painful enough as it is, but when they prevent you from getting a good night's rest they start to take a mental toll as well.
These are unfortunately an expected side-effect of your pregnancy, but we are going to share a few things you can do to prevent them.
What Causes Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
There are lots of reasons expecting women get more leg cramps than normal, and when we explore them, it is no surprise. It’s very likely that more than one thing is causing your leg cramps. Here are some of the most common culprits:
While you are pregnant, you will feel incredibly fatigued. Your baby is using up many of your resources, and you are carrying extra weight all day. This fatigue is a common cause of leg cramps.
Dehydration is known to cause muscle spasms and cramps. One quick fix for your leg cramps during pregnancy could simply be drinking more water. Ideally, you should be consuming 8-12 glasses each day.
Uterus Pressing on Nerves
As your child grows in your belly, it will cause your uterus to press on surrounding nerves. This can send out “pins and needles”, and can also cause painful leg cramps. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about this if it happens to you.
Decreased Circulation from Baby
While you’re pregnant, your blood circulation will slow. This is natural, but it leads to less blood being transported to your legs, and can cause cramps.
Calcium and Magnesium Deficiency
It is rather common to develop a calcium and/or magnesium deficiency while you’re pregnant, which is why you have probably seen advice on supplementation. Being deficient in these can contribute to leg cramps, along with a host of other issues.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Blood Clot
A more serious cause of your leg cramps during pregnancy could be a DVT blood clot. Pregnant women are 5-10 times more likely to develop one of these clots in their legs or pelvis. Some symptoms of this condition in particular include severe swelling, a lot of pain in your legs, and hot skin.
When Will I Start to Experience Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
Leg cramps during early pregnancy are not very common, but they can strike at anytime. You will likely start to experience leg cramps during the second and third trimesters, when you have gained a more significant amount of weight.
Once you get them, you will likely have them the remainder of your pregnancy. However, there are some things you can do to prevent them, or at the very least, decrease the discomfort and pain.
How to Prevent Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
If you take a proactive approach, there are plenty of ways to lower your chances of experiencing these painful leg cramps.
Many of them are things you should be doing anyways to remain in good health, but are often neglected. This is especially true as the stress of juggling your pregnancy, personal, and professional life takes hold.
Home Remedies for Leg Cramps
There are some simple home remedies for leg cramps during pregnancy you can try, such as:
- Staying hydrated (8-12 glasses of water a day)
- Eating a balanced diet high in micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals (particularly potassium, calcium, and magnesium)
- Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time - alternate between the two throughout your work day if possible
- Get some exercise on a daily basis, whether it be yoga, a walk, or low-intensity weight training - just do something!
If you are already experiencing leg cramps, there are a few things you can try to relieve the pain. Some expecting mothers have reported relief when using compression stockings, which increases circulation in the area.
Or, try this exercise: keep your leg straight, and lift your toes towards your shin. Simultaneously, think about pushing your heel out. This will actively stretch your calf, and diminish the duration and pain of your cramps.
You can also try self massaging the muscle as it cramps, to “work the cramp out”, but this might not always be effective.
Develop a Bedtime Routine
Many expecting mothers claim their leg cramps are worse at night, and it affects their sleep. The best way to combat these types of leg cramps is with a bedtime routine.
Get in the habit of taking a bath before bed to relax your muscles and melt the stress from your body.
After that, stretch for a few minutes. It's important to stretch your calves, which is the most common site of leg cramps. Pull your foot (grabbing your toes) towards you while you’re keeping your leg straight. This will put a light stretch on your calf muscle, and should be done 2-4 times for 10-20 seconds (per leg). To make this even more effective, follow up by flexing and releasing your feet several times.
To finish it off, self-massage (or have your partner do it) your legs for a few minutes. Focus on the calves and thighs where you typically would feel these cramps.
To make this even more effective, use a magnesium lotion like 8 Sheep Organics sleepy body lotion.
Should I See a Doctor About my Leg Cramps?
If your leg cramps during pregnancy are frequent and painful, you may want to see your doctor. They may be able to help determine the actual cause of your leg cramps, and help you come up with a plan to prevent them further.
Chances are they won’t tell you anything you didn’t already know after reading this article, but they can help weed out serious problems associated with leg cramps such as DVT or other spinal cord issues.