You have been tossing and turning trying to find the most comfortable position to fall asleep. You finally settle into the perfect position and drift off the sleep. All too soon though you are startled awake by a painful cramp in your leg. Leg (and foot) cramps in pregnancy are a fairly common complaint, especially in the second and third trimesters. While these cramps can strike at any time of the day or night they most often occur during the evening and night time hours.
What is the cause of these cramps and what can you do to treat and prevent them?
There is no clear cause for leg cramps in pregnancy. There is some evidence that these things can factor into leg cramps:
-Pressure from the uterus and baby on nerves or blood vessels
What can you do to prevent leg cramps?
Exercise – Most of the time exercise if safe during your pregnancy. Talk to your care provider to see if you need to be worried about any restrictions. This exercise does not need to be strenuous and can include daily walks, prenatal yoga, swimming, or any other exercise you find enjoyable.
Streching – A daily stretching routine can help eleviate leg cramps for some women. Here are two stretches you can try.
Stand approximately arms length away from a wall. Place your hands on the wall while facing it. Take a large step back with one leg and push your heel towards the ground stretching the calf muscle. Repeat with the other side.
Right before bed slowly flex and release each foot around 10 times. This can be done either before you get into bed or while already resting in bed.
Proper hydration. While it can be difficult it is suggested that pregnant women drink about 10-13 glasses of water a day to meet their hydration needs. If you are dehydrated that can cause the electrolytes in your body to not be in proper balance. If you are having difficulty keeping hydrated due to nausea or vomiting be sure to talk to your care provider right away.
Rest with your legs elevated whenever possible
Some women find using support stockings useful as well.
What to do when you have a leg cramp
Try stretching the muscles. You can use the two stretches listed above. Also if you can stand when you have a cramp you can stand barefoot on a hard floor and lift your toes. Avoid pointing your toes as this can make the cramp worse.
Massage the muscles. Your partner or you can massage the muscles that are cramping. You want to use long, firm strokes that move from the body towards the foot. If it is a foot cramp, you want the strokes to go from the heel towards the toes.
Use a heat pack or warm wash cloth on the area to relax the muscles.
If your leg cramps are severe or frequent mention them to your care provider for further assistance.