Leg Cramps During Pregnancy

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Leg Cramps Pregnancy

Moms-to-be know that sleep can be elusive during pregnancy. Even if it’s your first pregnancy (and you don’t have other little ones waking you in the middle of the night), there are many reasons why you may be having trouble sleeping. Nausea, vomiting, frequent trips to the bathroom, trouble getting comfortable, fetal movements (is it me, or is the baby trying to keep me awake at night?!), restless legs, anxiety about what’s to come, etc. We know: pregnancy insomnia is real.

Another annoying thing to add to this list is leg cramps. Unfortunately, as many pregnant women and mothers know, leg cramps are common late in pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. These sudden muscle contractions are painful, and they usually come on at night, often waking the poor mother-to-be from sleep. Pregnant women can get cramping and painful muscle tightness in the legs, feet, or both.

What Causes Leg Cramps?

Like other types of nighttime leg cramps, the exact cause of pregnancy-related leg cramps isn’t clear. This problem may be due to a low level of the mineral magnesium in the blood, build-up of lactic acid in the affected muscles, changes in circulation during pregnancy, or weight gain.

What Can I Do About Them?

Since the cause hasn’t really been determined, it’s difficult to say what the treatment should be. You may read about some oral (taken by mouth) supplements, which can include the following:

  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin B
  • Vitamin C

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest these actually work well. Studies that have been done on these supplements either had too few pregnant women or a poor study design; either way, there is not enough evidence to support these supplements as treatments for pregnancy-related leg cramps.1

For those that are not interested in taking pills, there are some remedies available that do not involve drugs or supplements. They include:

  • Taking a hot shower or warm tub bath
  • Massage (with or without ice)
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Wearing supportive shoes
  • Elevating your legs
  • Walking regularly
  • Stretching

Stretching may be the easiest and quickest solution for leg cramps, especially when they happen at night. Stretching may also help prevent leg cramps if it is done regularly, such as every morning and every night before bedtime.2,3 The good news is, leg cramps tend to go away after pregnancy.

References:

  1. Zhou K et al. 2015. Interventions for leg cramps during pregnancy.
  2. March of Dimes. 2016. Common discomforts of pregnancy.
  3. 2017. Patient education: Nocturnal (nighttime) leg cramps (The Basics)
Mandy Armitage
Dr. Mandy Armitage is a board-certified physician and writer. She is passionate about education, for patients and clinicians alike. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, traveling, and attending live music events.

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