Leg Cramps at Night During Pregnancy: Causes and Prevention

Leg cramps at night are very common during pregnancy. They typically begin during the second trimester and may continue until labor. Although the cramps may be mild, they can also be painful enough to wake you up.

Causes of Leg Cramps at Night During Pregnancy

Why do you get leg cramps during pregnancy? There isn’t a definite answer, but there are several assumptions. Some experts think they are caused by pressure put on your blood vessels and nerves by your growing uterus. Others think it may be the muscles in your legs tiring from supporting the extra weight of the baby.

Even though leg cramps are not unusual, you'd better make sure there are no underlying causes. Leg pain can also be a symptom of dehydration or nutrient deficiency. If you are not drinking enough water or are low in sodium, you may experience cramping.

Will Leg Cramps Affect Your Baby?

Leg cramps will not affect your baby unless it is caused by dehydration or nutrient deficiency. If they are the cause, you could go into premature labor. Make sure to see your doctor to discuss what steps you should take.

What to Do to Deal With Leg Cramps

  • If you are experiencing leg cramps at night during pregnancy, try flexing your toes upward and rubbing your calf or leg muscle that hurts.
  • If this does not help, soaking in a warm bath or applying a heating pad may do the job.
  • As the cramp eases, slowly stretch your leg.
  • Try to stand up when you feel you can and slowly walk around to continue stretching your leg muscles.

Most of the time, unless directed by your doctor, muscle relaxants and ibuprofen should be avoided during pregnancy. However, you can usually take acetaminophen if the cramp is painful and you cannot get complete relief with massage or heat. If you are unsure, you can call your doctor for advice.

Warning: Keep in mind that if your leg pain is constant, the area is sensitive to the touch or there is swelling, you should contact your doctor right away or go to the emergency room. It may be an indication of a blood clot in your leg. This can be a serious condition and you have a greater chance of getting one while pregnant.

What to Do to Prevent Leg Cramps at Night During Pregnancy

1.  Stretch Your Calf Muscles

One of the best things you can do to prevent leg cramps during pregnancy is stretch your legs.

  • Try standing in front of a wall about an arm’s length away. Lay your hands flat against the wall.
  • Pull your left foot back and put it behind your right foot.
  • Gently bend forward your right leg, with your left knee maintaining a straight position and keeping your left heel touching the floor. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  • Keep your hips forward and back straight when stretching.
  • Change legs and repeat the same steps on the opposite side.

2.  Stay Active

Maintaining a regular exercise routine seems to help prevent leg pain and cramps while pregnant. However, always check with your doctor before starting any new type of physical activity.

3.  Take Magnesium Supplements

A few studies have shown that adding magnesium supplements may be beneficial in preventing leg cramps. You can add more magnesium to your diet naturally by eating whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds and dried fruit. Before you decide to take a supplement or add a certain type of food to your diet, check with your doctor.

4.  Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough water and staying hydrated can help prevent leg cramps at night during pregnancy. A good indication that you are getting enough fluids is the color of your urine. You want it to be clear or light yellow. If it is dark yellow, you may not be hydrated enough.

5.  Choose Proper Footwear

When you are pregnant, your body moves differently. You should look for comfortable shoes that provide good support. It is time to put away the stilettos. Look for shoes that fit securely, without being too tight.

6.  Other Tips

  • Before settling down in bed for the night, soak in a warm bath.
  • Do not sleep with your sheets tucked in, which can restrict your feet. Allow them room to wiggle around so the muscles don’t get tense.
  • Use a pillow to prop your feet up at night. You can also lift the foot of your bed, but no more than seven inches.

Other Mothers’ Suggestions

"I have to admit leg cramps have been the worst experience during my pregnancy. Now in my second trimester, they wake me up at night and usually hurt my upper legs and thighs. Since I started stretching when I get up in the morning and before I lie down at night, it has gotten better. Also, I am drinking more milk and water to stay hydrated."

"I started having leg cramps early in my pregnancy. I decided to make sure I was getting enough nutrients like calcium and vitamins. It feels like it has helped a lot. I’ve been told that magnesium might prevent the cramps, but I haven’t tried it yet. I am going to talk to my doctor first."

"I used to get horrible leg cramps at night during pregnancy with my first child. My mother-in-law told me to drink tonic water with a splash of juice added so it would taste better. I would have about a can a night and as long as I drank it my cramps stayed away."

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