Pregnancy comes with many feelings of excitement and expectation.
It can also have a huge impact on a woman’s body, leaving her feeling drained and in pain or discomfort.
You might experience sore breasts, nausea, and vomiting – just to name a few!
With such a wide range of pregnancy symptoms, growing a baby can be really hard to manage.
Leg cramps are another example of pregnancy symptoms that can really make life hard for a newly expecting mother.
Read on to find out more about leg cramps during pregnancy, including the causes, and some remedies to help get you through.
Leg cramps during pregnancy
Leg cramps are painful muscle spasms in the legs, which happen when the muscle shortens involuntarily. They are usually felt in the calf muscles.
Many pregnant women experience leg cramps. They can have an huge impact on the quality of life for sufferers, as they can disrupt sleep, cause great pain and discomfort, and affect everyday activities.
What causes leg cramps in early pregnancy?
There are several different things that can cause you to experience leg cramp in early pregnancy.
- Excessive exercise
- Lack of exercise
- Extra weight
- Varicose veins
- Magnesium and calcium deficiency.
Is it normal to get cramps in your legs when pregnant?
This study shows almost half of all pregnant women suffer cramps in their legs during pregnancy. The problem is more common during the second and third trimesters.
How early can leg cramps start in pregnancy?
Although leg cramps are generally more common in the late stage of pregnancy, they can start at any time. But it’s common for leg cramps to become worse by the third trimester.
Some mothers can be more susceptible to muscle cramps than others. This is especially true if they’ve experienced cramping during their period. They’re also more likely to experience leg cramps if they’ve suffered endometrial leg cramping, which we will explore a little further on.
Achy legs and hips in early pregnancy
A hormone called relaxin that is released during pregnancy causes your ligaments to soften, which in turn affects your joints, bones, and muscles.
This happens very early in pregnancy and it allows your body to accommodate a growing baby and prepare for birthing that baby.
It’s completely normal to experience aches and pains in the lower limbs and hips in early pregnancy.
Leg cramps during pregnancy while sleeping
Often leg cramps occur when you lie down at night. We don’t really know why, but it’s thought to be due to position, as most people sleep with their feet forward (plantar flexion). This can affect blood flow and increase the likelihood of cramps during the night.
Similar to restless legs syndrome, cramps in the legs during pregnancy are extremely annoying and can significantly affect sleep.
How do you prevent leg cramps?
If you’re prone to cramps, or you’re worried about the effects of night cramps on your sleep, try these 7 tips on how to reduce the frequency of leg cramps:
#1: Stay hydrated
Increase your water intake to ensure you stay well hydrated. Electrolytes help transport fluid around your body, and good hydration is one of the best ways to avoid getting a cramp in your legs.
#2: Don’t go hard
Don’t push yourself to the limit when exercising. Lactic acid build-up from excessive activity causes an increase in cramps in your lower limbs. In the later stages, exerting yourself can also cause your muscles to become fatigued.
#3: Keep moving
Not moving enough can also hamper the circulation in your lower limbs, due to lack of blood flow. Stay active as much as you can. Swimming, yoga, walking, and regular stretching are great ways to care for your health.
#4: Check your shoes
Use supportive footwear with a firm heel counter (the part of the shoe that supports the heel) to support your feet well.
#5: Epsom salts bath
Regularly take an Epsom salt bath. These salts are a natural form of the pure mineral compound of magnesium and sulfate and might prevent leg cramps during pregnancy and reduce your need for treatment. An Epsom salts bath will help you to relax and feel good mentally.
#6: Healthy weight gain
Take care to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet to prevent excess weight gain. Your growing baby can have an impact on blood circulation in your lower limbs by exerting extra pressure on your nerves and blood vessels. Extra weight can make this even worse, as well as being linked to other complications such as gestational diabetes.
#7: Diet matters
Watch the food you eat! Maintaining a well-balanced diet will ensure you have all the nutrition your body needs, especially as growing your baby takes extra energy and nutrients.
Discuss this with your health care provider or doctor if you feel you are lacking in something.
What do the experts say about leg cramps during pregnancy?
Studies show magnesium deficiency can be a leading cause of cramping in the calves during pregnancy. If you have recurrent cramps, it might help to take a magnesium supplement.
BellyBelly’s leading nutritionist Dr. Ross Walter says:
“Low magnesium can result in tight muscles and spasms, which are typical for pregnant women. A lot of their nutrients go to the baby as the priority. So if the woman’s diet is not sufficient in some vitamins or minerals, the baby will be fine, but the woman may have symptoms. That’s why it’s so common in pregnant women”.
Home remedies for leg cramps during pregnancy
If you suffer from leg cramps during pregnancy, try these home remedies to relieve the cramp and the pain:
- A heating pad when resting in bed can help ease cramps fast, as the heat radiates into your muscles and can help them relax
- For relief, stretch your foot forward and backward to stretch the calf out
- Get straight out of bed and move. Walking around will help stretch the calf muscle and get the blood flowing
- Massage the muscle yourself or ask your partner to help; try to relax as much as possible. Switch legs and repeat. The pressure of the massage can heat the muscle and get the blood flowing. Products such as magnesium spray or cream can be used for instant and direct relief.
- Take a hot shower. The combination of water and warmth will ease your tension and relax the muscle.
When should I be concerned about leg pain?
In some cases, leg pain can be a sign of blood clots – a more serious condition. It’s otherwise known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
During pregnancy, all women can be at higher risk of a blood clot because their clotting factors are higher, to prevent any risk of heavy bleeding during birth.
There are differences between typical leg cramps and signs of more serious DVT. Watch out for signs such as:
- Pain in the lower limbs when standing, moving, or lifting your foot towards your knee
- Warmth, redness, or swelling, usually just behind or below the knee.
If you’re worried about any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or pregnancy health care provider. You should have an immediate assessment and treatment, as DVT can be life-threatening.
The health, comfort, and wellbeing of you and your baby are very important.