Leg cramps are common during pregnancy and typically affect the calf muscle. This health condition usually makes its appearance between 24th and 36th week of pregnancy. It may be due to the extra weight carried by the leg muscles or related to swelling from fluid build-up in your legs, also known as oedema. Oedema during pregnancy occurs because of the pressure of your expanding uterus slowing down 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 uterus enlarges. It may also affect the thighs and buttocks as well. Although it may occur at any time of the day, you’ll probably notice leg cramps mostly at night as the condition interferes with your sleep.
How can I relieve leg cramps during pregnancy?
Here are the actions you can take to relieve leg cramps:
- Immediately straightening your leg with the heel flexed and gently flexing your toes back toward your shins. This help to stretch your calf muscles. Don’t point your toes while stretching as it can make the muscle contract and worsen the cramp. It may hurt at first but will ease the spasm and gradually make the pain go away.
- After the stretch, gently massage your calf to relax the muscle
- You can also warm it with a warm towel or hot water bottle or pain relieving cream on the area.
- Walk around for a few minutes to improve blood flow.
Meanwhile, throughout the day, try to practice few tips to prevent recurrent episodes of leg cramps by:
- Avoid sitting or standing with your legs crossed for long periods of time as it may hamper blood flow
- Try to stretch your calf muscles regularly during the day and several times before you go to bed.
- Rotate your ankles and wiggle your toes in your leisure time, as you sit down, eat dinner, or watch TV.
- Take a walk every day or do other regular exercises unless prohibited by your healthcare provider.
- Lie down on your left side can help to improve circulation to and from your legs.
- Drink water regularly to keep your muscle hydrated.
- Take a warm bath before bed to relax your leg muscles.
If you are thinking of consuming supplement to prevent leg cramps, please consult with your healthcare provider for a recommendation. Latest research evidence indicates that calcium supplementation does not help in reducing leg cramps. But if you find leg cramp to be very troublesome during your pregnancy, the best evidence is for magnesium lactate or citrate. Sodium supplements may decrease the number of cramp attacks experienced by women in pregnancy but the effect is not significant.
Even though it’s troublesome, leg cramps are usually not to be worried about. But, if you are experiencing severe symptoms, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Constant muscle pain, warmth, swelling, redness and tenderness may be signs of a blood clot. This requires immediate medical attention. Although rarely happen, increase in blood viscosity in pregnancy cause an increased likelihood of blood clots.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: November 19, 2018 | Last Modified: June 17, 2019
Ernest W. Page and Emery P. Page, ‘Leg Cramps in Pregnancy: Etiology and Treatment’, Obstetrics & Gynecology 1, no. 1 (January 1953): 94.
Gavin Young and David Jewell, ‘Interventions for Leg Cramps in Pregnancy’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, no. 1 (2002), https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD000121.