How to Avoid Pregnancy Leg Cramps

By Robyn Pittman

December 27, 2020

Robyn is a Registered Nurse and Mom, working with families in rural Alberta. She is a Labour and Delivery, ER, and Post-Partum nurse, and is passionate about providing non-judgemental and evidence based support to families as a Mama Coach!

Leg cramps. This was one of my least favourite things about being pregnant! I would be sleeping peacefully- or maybe not so peacefully because, well, I was pregnant…when I would be jolted awake by a terrible pain in my leg! Ouch!

If you’re reading this, you might be able to relate.

What are They?

Leg cramps typically happen in the second half of pregnancy and affect close to half of all pregnant women. The cramp is an involuntary contraction of the calf muscle, and most often happens during the night.

What causes them?

The cause of leg cramps in pregnancy is largely unknown, though experts have speculated that it could be caused by increased levels of phosphorus and decreased levels of calcium and magnesium in the blood.  Dehydration increased fatigue, and decreased blood flow to the legs (due to a growing baby) have also been identified as possible causes.

What Can You do to Prevent Them?

Rest. 

You’re growing a human! Don’t be afraid to alternate periods of activity with rest to give your legs and feet a break. 

Stay hydrated. 

The WHO says pregnant women need up to 3L of water a day! That’s 2-4 glasses more than you needed prior to pregnancy.

Stretch. 

Stretching out those calf muscles before you go to bed may help reduce the number or severity of your leg cramps.

Compression stockings. 

Wearing compression stockings during the day can help prevent fluid buildup and increased pressure in your legs.

Eat well. 

Eat foods that are rich in calcium and magnesium such as leafy greens, whole grains, avocadoes, dairy products, and bananas. Make sure you are also taking a prenatal vitamin recommended by your health care provider. If you are already having leg cramps, you may want to talk to your doctor or midwife about taking additional calcium and/or magnesium supplements at night. Magnesium can also help you sleep better!

How Can You Relieve the Pain?

When you get a leg cramp, try stretching out your calf by flexing your foot up towards yourself. Straighten out your leg but do not point your toe, as this may make the cramp worse. You can also try walking it off and gently massaging your calf.

Are they Concerning?

Leg cramps are a common occurrence in pregnancy for many women and are not usually cause for concern, however, you should always make sure you are getting the nutrition and vitamins you need! Talk to your health care provider if you are concerned. 

If the pain in your leg is severe and constant (rather than intermittent cramping), and you are noticing increased swelling, you should seek medical attention. These symptoms could mean that you have a blood clot, which requires immediate treatment. Your leg might also be unusually hot or cool to the touch and either reddened or pale.

Like everything in pregnancy, leg cramps are experienced differently for each person. Take it day by day and figure out what works for you. Try these tips and tricks and remember that leg cramps are temporary…they only mean you’re that much closer to meeting your little one!

Looking for more pregnancy info? Book a prenatal class with a Mama Coach and get all your questions answered!

 

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