Leg cramps are a common discomfort during pregnancy. It’s unclear exactly what causes these bothersome muscle spasms, though a number of different factors may play a role. It could be a simple case of overwork: The added weight of pregnancy means your leg muscles have more to support.
Your growing baby and expanding abdomen also put extra pressure on your circulatory system, including the blood vessels that go to your legs. This can mean your leg muscles aren’t getting enough blood — a common cause of cramping. It’s also possible for the baby’s head to press on nerves that trigger leg cramps. Although the cause of leg cramps during pregnancy remains unclear, experts no longer believe calcium deficiency is the culprit.
Leg cramps tend to get worse as your pregnancy progresses, especially at night. A painful charley horse in your calf can even wake you from a deep sleep. The good news is that a few simple steps can help you treat — and prevent — leg cramps.
What can I do to ease leg cramps?
During a leg cramp, flex your toes towards your head and gently massage the affected muscle. If pain or tenderness persists, a heating pad or a warm bath may bring relief. As the tension eases, try to straighten your leg as you flex your toes upwards. When you’re able, stand up and walk around.
Prescription muscle relaxants are not advisable during pregnancy. But acetaminophen (Tylenol) may take the edge off a severe, painful cramp.
How do you prevent muscle spasms?
To stop leg cramps — usually in your calf muscles — from stealing your sleep at night, do a few gentle leg stretches before you turn in. Try this simple calf stretch:
- 1. Stand about arm’s length from a wall; place your hands on the wall for support.
- 2. Keep your left knee slightly bent and move your right foot back a foot or two, keeping it flat on the floor.
- 3. Feel the stretch in your right calf as you lean forward. Hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, then switch legs to stretch your other calf.
Regular exercise — including walking and swimming — may also help keep cramps at bay. Remember to stretch your legs before and after any aerobic activity. Resist the urge to point your toes when you stretch or lie in bed — doing so can trigger a cramp. Instead, flex your