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Why am I having leg cramps during pregnancy?
No one really knows why pregnant women get more leg cramps. It's possible that your leg muscles get tired from carrying extra weight. Or cramps could be related to swelling from fluid buildup in your legs, a condition known as edema.
(Legs often swell during pregnancy because the pressure of your expanding uterus slows the blood returning from your legs to your heart.)
You may first develop leg cramps during your second trimester, and they may get worse as your pregnancy progresses and your belly gets bigger. These cramps can occur during the day, but you'll probably notice them most at night because they can interfere with your ability to get a good night's sleep.
How can I relieve leg cramps during pregnancy?
These steps work whenever you have a leg cramp:
- Stretch your calf muscles immediately by straightening your leg, heel first, and gently flexing your toes back toward your shins. (Don't point your toes while stretching. It can make the muscle contract and worsen the cramp.) This stretch might hurt at first, but it will ease the spasm and gradually make the pain go away.
- After you stretch, massage the muscle or warm it with a hot water bottle to relax the tissue. Walking around for a few minutes may help too.
How can I prevent leg cramps during pregnancy?
Unfortunately, there's no surefire way to prevent leg cramps during pregnancy. But these tips might help make them less likely:
- Don't stand or sit with your legs crossed for long periods of time.
- Stretch your calf muscles regularly during the day and several times before you go to bed.
- Rotate your ankles and wiggle your toes whenever you sit down, eat dinner, or watch TV.
- Take a walk every day (unless your healthcare provider has advised you not to exercise).
- Lie down on your left side to improve circulation to and from your legs.
- Drink water regularly to stay hydrated during the day.
- Try a warm bath before bed to relax your muscles.
Some research suggests that taking a magnesium supplement in addition to a prenatal vitamin may help prevent leg cramps in some women. However, other research shows that taking magnesium supplements has no significant effect on the frequency or intensity of leg cramps during pregnancy.
You may have heard that leg cramps are a sign that you need more calcium, and that calcium supplements will relieve the problem. Though it's certainly important to get enough calcium, there's no good evidence that taking extra calcium will help prevent leg cramps during pregnancy. In one well-designed study, pregnant women taking calcium got no more relief from leg cramps than those taking a placebo.
Always check with your provider before taking any kind of supplement during pregnancy, and ask your provider to recommend a reputable brand.
What should I do if I keep getting leg cramps during pregnancy?
Call your healthcare provider if:
- Muscle pain is constant and not just an occasional cramp.
- You notice swelling, redness, or tenderness in your leg.
- Your leg feels warm to the touch.
These may be signs of a blood clot, which requires immediate medical attention. Blood clots are relatively rare, but they're more common during pregnancy.