Everything you need to know about preventing and treating leg cramps in pregnancy
Muscle cramps in the lower legs and feet are incredibly common during pregnancy and many women suffer from this uncomfortable side effect, particularly during the final trimester.
Muscle cramp can strike at any time although it tends to be more common at night and during periods of inactivity. It is also more likely to occur if you're pointing your toes.
Cramping of the calf muscles (below your knee at the back of your leg) tends to be most common although many women also experience cramp in the soles of their feet and toes.
Cramps are spasms that occur when a muscle contracts too hard and while there are a number of theories about what causes them, there isn't yet a definitive answer. However, they are thought to be brought on by a combination of:
What can you do to prevent cramp?
- The weight of your expanding uterus placing excess pressure on your pelvic floor and compressing the nerves that run from your upper body down to your feet.
- Changes in circulation to your lower extremities because of the increasing volume of fluid moving around your body.
- Muscle fatigue as a result of the extra demands that carrying the weight of your baby places on the muscles in your legs and feet.
- A slight deficiency in magnesium, vitamin C or potassium.
How to treat cramps?
- Stay active - Try to avoid sitting, standing or lying in the same position for an extended period of time as this can encourage the muscle to over-contract. It's also a good idea to stay active on a daily basis, including some moderate exercise such as walking in your daily routine.
- Stretch - Taking a few minutes to stretch your calves in the morning and before bed can help keep your muscles loose.
- Sleep on your left side - This is considered the 'optimum' sleep position for pregnancy as it stops the weight of your baby from pressing on the major blood vessels that run between your upper and lower body.
- Take a warm bath - This can help relax your muscles making it less likely that they will cramp up. Massage can also help although you may need to enlist some help for this!
- Eat a balanced diet - Make sure you include plenty of magnesium, potassium, folate and vitamin C rich foods in your diet so that you have all bases covered. Bananas, dates, figs, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, nuts and pulses are just some of the foods you should try and include.
- Stay hydrated - Try to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day so you stay hydrated, this will also help with other pregnancy side effects such as headaches and water retention too.
The best thing to do when cramp occurs is to stretch out the muscle.
If it's in your calf then stretch your leg out, pushing your heel away from you and pulling your toes towards you. This may feel uncomfortable for a few moments but it will gradually help the cramp to ease.
If you are standing up when you get cramp then try leaning forward on a chair or wall with the cramping leg extended flat on the floor behind you to stretch the muscle. Simply walking around can also help.
Once the cramp has eased, placing a hot compress or hot water-bottle on the area can help relieve any further discomfort. Massage can also help loosen the cramping muscle.
When should I be worried?
Cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes although your muscle may still feel tender for a number of hours afterwards. This is completely normal and not something you should worry about although it can be uncomfortable.
However, if you experience cramp that lasts for more than 30 minutes and is accompanied by a swelling or reddening of your leg and discomfort anywhere else you should contact your doctor immediately as it may be indicative of a blood clot (thrombosis) and further treatment will be needed.
Whether you have a tried and tested remedy for cramps or a question about something entirely different, why not drop in to the AskBaby forums for a chat with other members.