Pregnancy is full of weird aches and pains, from morning sickness and nausea to fatigue and bloating. Unfortunately, leg cramps (otherwise known as Charley horses) are no exception.
Leg cramps can come out of nowhere, or even wake you up in the middle of the night. Here’s why you might be experiencing leg cramps, what you can do to soothe your pain, and how to reduce the chances you’ll have to deal with them again in the future.
Are Leg Cramps During Pregnancy Normal?
Yes, nearly 50% of all women endure leg cramps during pregnancy at some point, according to the American Pregnancy Association, and they tend to come up at night.
Even though many moms-to-be have leg cramps, the level of discomfort can vary, from annoying to outright crippling. Leg cramps can cause women to lose sleep, which affects their work capacity and well-being.
What Causes Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
While you can actually face them at any point during your pregnancy, leg cramps are more common in the second and third trimesters. The cause, however, is unclear. Some experts say that leg cramps happen due to a build-up of lactic and pyruvic acid, causing your muscles to involuntarily contract and leading to painful cramps. Pregnancy weight gain can also increase your risk of cramping since it puts more work on your legs than when you’re not pregnant.
Also, since you’re at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated when you’re pregnant, this is also a factor in leg cramps during pregnancy. If your body doesn’t have enough water or sodium, your muscles can contract and provoke that cramping feeling.
At-Home Treatments for Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
You’re probably wondering what you can do when that familiar pain strikes. Here are a few easy ways to help ease your leg cramps:
- Walk it out. Movement can help work it out, but this can be a little tricky if you’re having an intense cramp.
- Flex your foot when you feel the cramp coming on. Point your toes up as far as you can bring them. To do this, you might envision trying to bring your toes to your shin. Then, hold this position until the cramp calms down.
- Stretch, then elevate your leg. Try these steps after you flex your foot to help move things along.
- Massage the cramp. Rubbing the effected muscle can help relieve the tension and cramping.
Call your doctor if you’re having any of these symptoms along with leg cramps during pregnancy:
- Incessant throbbing in one leg
- Redness in your leg
- Leg swelling
- Your leg is warm to the touch
These could be a sign of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that develops within a deep vein in your legs. That DVT can travel and cause a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that travels up to your lungs and blocks a portion of them. This is a life-threatening emergency, so call your doctor right away.
How to Avoid Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
While leg cramps are very common during pregnancy, here are a few things you can do to lower your chances of having them:
- Stay active. Moving around by taking a quick walk can help work out the acids that can build up in your leg muscles.
- Stretch your calves. Stretching them out a few times a day can help relieve tension in this area which can lead to cramping.
- Before bed, take a warm shower or bath. Doing so can help soothe and relax your muscles. Add Epsom salt to your bath for an extra boost in muscle soothing.
- Drink plenty of water. You probably already know that making sure to drink enough water is important during pregnancy. Staying hydrated can also help lower your risk of cramping.
If you suffer from leg cramps regularly, make sure to talk to your doctor. They should be able to help guide you on the next steps.