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A mother-to-be needs all the care, comfort, and knowledge to deal with the physical and emotional changes that affect her during her pregnancy. Among pregnancy-related symptoms like backaches and headaches, leg cramps are a common problem. However, this is a temporary condition, and you are not the only one suffering from this nagging pain.
Cramps In Legs During Pregnancy
Cramps are the involuntary contractions or the sudden tightening of muscles present in your body. These aches are most common in the leg muscles during pregnancy. Many pregnant women get lower leg cramps that often strike at night during their second and third trimesters. Fortunately, chances are these ailments will disappear after you deliver. In the meantime however, there are some things you can do to alleviate discomfort.
Early on in your pregnancy, practising regular and alternate circulation-boosting exercises with proper amount of rest (prop up those feet and legs!) can prevent cramps from developing.
Pain is a personal phenomenon. No one can understand it better than you do when you’ve spent all those nights awake trying hard to catch up on sleep in your cosy bed. In that solitary hour, if your leg cramps don’t let you rest peacefully, it’s time to look up the causes of your pain, and remedies to ease it.
Right after conception, women generally worry when they feel mild cramps or a feeling of tugging and pulling at their tendons. Here are some of the causes of leg cramps during early pregnancy:
Causes Of Leg Cramps in Pregnant Women
Experts aren’t sure about what causes leg cramps. “Charley horses”, the non-clinical name for painful cramps in your calf muscles, although extremely painful, are luckily usually brief.
The reasons for leg cramps during pregnancy can be many and varied. These include:
- excess weight
- carrying heavy things
- a mineral imbalance in the body
- pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the leg exerted by the expanding uterus and growing child
- weight gain related to pregnancy
- swelling from fluid build-up in your legs, known as edema
- if you have a multiple pregnancy and are carrying more than one child; such women also have more amniotic fluid to accommodate the foetuses, and hence may experience leg cramps and edema that’s worse than normal.
After the delivery, this swelling disappears within a few days in the form of excessive sweating.
Symptoms Of Leg Cramps
Cramping may be more noticeable when you sneeze, cough, or change positions while sitting, standing, or even lying down. These spasms can radiate up and down your calves during the day, but they’re usually more noticeable at night, when fatigue and fluid accumulation is more.
You may wake up at night with sudden painful spasms in your calf muscles. These pains are annoying, but they’re not usually a reason to worry, unless they persist and are severe enough to interfere with your daily life. If you are experiencing severe camps, consult your doctor. If you have puffiness around the eyes, facial swelling, or abnormal swelling of feet and ankles, or if one leg swells more than the other, then the cramps could indicate a blood clot.
Factors That Can Increase the Possibility Of Leg Cramps
Leg cramps can increase in frequency and intensity because of contributing factors such as a substantial increase in weight, pedal swelling, and fatigue. These spasms travel up and down your calves at daytime, and can affect the quality of sleep at night, leading to stress or frustration.
- Increased weight – During pregnancy and with weight gain, the lower limbs get stressed due to the added pressure.
- Growing uterus – The increasing size of the uterus adds to the pressure on major veins in the leg.
- Hormones – Pregnancy hormones (e.g. progesterone) combined with physiological factors increase the tension in muscles, and lead to cramps and body aches.
- Nutrient deficiency – Magnesium or calcium deficiency also causes leg cramps. The nutrient level in the mother’s blood can get depleted, since the foetus depends on the mother’s body for nutrition.
Treatments for Leg Cramps
Leg cramps are common among most expecting mothers, and there are various remedial measures that can relieve and treat your cramps, or prevent them from occurring. Apart from maintaining a healthy lifestyle, a positive approach towards life can take you a long way in dealing with it.
For some mothers, taking supplements or magnesium-rich foods (e.g. whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds) helps prevent leg cramps during pregnancy. Drink water to keep your muscles hydrated to prevent cramps. Magnesium for leg cramps in pregnancy is vital to keep your muscles strong. However, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before taking supplements for leg cramps in pregnancy.
If you are wondering what to do when you have leg cramps, try these simple methods to help relieve or prevent leg cramps:
- Exercise and stretch regularly.
- Sit comfortably with your legs elevated.
- Wear stockings to support your legs.
- A soothing massage for your calves and feet helps.
- Applying local heat with a gel pack or hot water bottle.
- Standing on a cold surface can reduce spasm for some time.
- Choose proper footwear, which offers comfort, support, and utility.
- Stretch the muscles on the affected side.
- A warm bath also might help.
Leg Cramps Prevention
While these methods cannot guarantee total prevention of leg cramps during pregnancy, they can be used to prevent leg cramps to an extent:
- Don’t keep your legs crossed for long periods of time.
- Stretch your leg muscles regularly before you go to bed.
- Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated, as a lack of sodium causes muscle contractions. Dark, yellowish-coloured urine signals inadequate water intake.
- Drink less coffee, as caffeine increases the amount of fluid you lose through urine.
Natural Remedies for Leg Cramps When pregnant
Stress, indulgence in unhealthy food, and lack of enough exercise are some of the common contributing factors for body aches and leg cramps during pregnancy. Natural remedies, therefore, try to address these root causes.
- Relaxation: A warm bath with Epsom salts can often ease your leg pain effectively. This helps you relax, and reduces your stress levels while relieving the tension in your muscles. You can wrap ice from the refrigerator, or use an ice pack and apply it onto your cramping muscle. Other stress-free activities include reading a book, exploring creative hobbies, watching a movie, meditation, or doing anything that keeps you happy.
- Nutrition: A diet rich in potassium and magnesium can help reduce leg cramps. Additionally, you should exercise regularly. Consult your doctor before taking magnesium or other supplements. Excess magnesium can result in diarrhoea. A balanced diet made up of leafy vegetables, fruits, and salad will fulfil your nutritional needs, and reduce frequent and severe leg cramps. Avoid consuming table salt and processed food. Eat food that is seasoned with high quality sea salt. Check with your doctor if a pregnancy multivitamin or food supplement is needed for your specific case.
Try to eat a healthy diet by including foods that contain:
- Magnesium (dates, figs, sweet corn, green veggies, apples)
- Calcium (milk and milk products, sunflower seeds, salmon, pulses)
- Vitamin C (oranges, grapefruit, potatoes, tomatoes)
Exercise: Gentle exercises such as yoga, walking, or swimming help in reducing the severity of your cramps. Stay active by taking a walk, choosing the stairs instead of the elevator, or even watering a garden. It is advisable to stop for a rest if you need it. Doing light exercises can improve your blood circulation and reduce leg cramps, as well as help you improve your physical strength to prepare for labour.
Exercise for leg cramps during pregnancy is recommended in antenatal classes that educate you about childbirth. Proper exercise improves the circulatory system and minimises water retention in the legs.
- Rotate your ankles and wriggle your toes while sitting down.
- Since some cramps come from muscle fatigue and fluid retention, do gentle yoga stretches.
- Periods of activity should be followed by adequate periods of rest, and you should relax with your feet up.
- Wear a support hose during the day.
Cramps also reduce through massage with aromatherapy oils such as lavender or chamomile that are safe for pregnancy.
Address the requirements of your body at all times. Do not overexert yourself, and drink about 1.5 litres (8 glasses) of water a day.
What You Can Do for Persistent Pain
Your muscles might feel sore and tender after the cramps for some time. Paracetamol can be taken as a pain reliever, although there is some debate around its effectiveness as a painkiller. Rather, take a warm bath.
In rare cases, the cause of leg cramps or leg pain may be a blood clot in a vein in the leg (venous thromboembolism). If you think the pain is because of a blood clot, seek medical attention immediately.
Call your doctor if you have:
- Constant pain in the leg
- Tenderness or swelling in the calf
- A constant headache with blurry vision
- Chest pain with breathing trouble
Pregnancy changes a woman’s life. The key to a healthy pregnancy is to be alert and aware of the associated discomforts. Staying physically fit and emotionally stable is important during this critical phase, so try to keep your mind off things by relaxing and looking forward to the future.
Also Read: Cramping During Pregnancy