Leg cramps during pregnancy – causes, treatment and prevention
Leg cramps are a very common occurrence for many women during their pregnancy. Most leg cramps are caused from the fatigue of carrying around textra weight that is put on while you are pregnant. As you gain more weight, your leg cramps may increase. Cramps can also be aggravated by the expanding uterus putting pressure on blood vessels that return blood from your legs to your heart and the nerves leading to your legs. Leg cramps can occur at any time, but you will most likely notice them at bedtime.
There is some speculation that too little calcium, potassium, or too much phosphorus can cause leg cramps. There are no good studies that support these theories at this time. However, it is a good idea to increase your calcium intake during your pregnancy and to avoid phosphorus (found in processed meat, snack foods and soda), which will combat any problems that a lack of calcium could cause. Phosphorus has the same effect as not getting enough calcium because it can prevent your body from absorbing the calcium you do ingest.
To try and avoid leg cramps you can take these precautions:
- Don’t stand or sit with your legs crossed for long periods of time.
- Stretch your calf and leg muscles during the day and before bed.
- Rotate your ankles and wiggle your toes when you are sitting.
- If your doctor or midwife allows it, try to take a walk each day. Even a short 10 minute walk can help.
- Lie on your left side to improve your circulation.
- Rest when you are tired and elevate your legs when possible.
- Wear supportive stockings.
- If your doctor or midwife allows it, take a warm bath to help relax your muscles before bed.
- Drink plenty of water.
- If your doctor or midwife allows it, take a magnesium supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin. Magnesium has been proven to be beneficial in the treatment of leg cramps.
If, despite all your precautions, you do get a leg cramp you should immediately stretch your calf muscle by flexing your toes back toward your shin. If someone is with you, ask them to massage the muscle that is cramping. This may hurt at first, but it will ease the spasm and the pain will gradually go away. Warming the muscle with a hot water bottle or heating pad may help relax the cramp. You can also try walking around, or standing on a cold surface. Some women have found that Tylenol or Acetaminophen is helpful in relieving the pain.
If none of these remedies help, or if you have constant leg or muscle pain, or if you notice swelling or tenderness you should call your doctor.