Do you experience legs cramps in pregnancy especially at night? Does the severity of legs cramps in pregnancy help to predict the gender of the fetus? Get insights as we explore more on the causes of leg cramps during pregnancy at night in a second and third trimester. You will also learn more on how to get rid of the cramps using various remedies and treatment.
Leg Cramps during Pregnancy Causes
Why am I having leg cramps in pregnancy? This is a question that many expectant women usually ask about. Leg muscle cramps is a common discomfort that affects half or more of pregnant women. It normally occurs in the lower part of the leg, particularly in the calves.
Cramps are common during the second and third trimester. The exact cause of leg cramps in pregnancy isn’t clear. However, there are various theories that blame the following factors:
- Increasing Weight of Baby
Leg cramps in pregnancy are believed to result from the increasing weight of the fetus. The muscles of the legs are bearing an increase in weight and probably feeling the strain. This may be the reason why you will start experiencing leg cramps during the second and third trimester of your pregnancy.
- Deficiency of Certain Minerals
You may be experiencing Leg muscle cramps in pregnancy due to inadequate of certain nutrients and minerals such magnesium and calcium in the body. When pregnant, both you and the unborn baby requires adequate nutrients and minerals for development. The fetus normally obtains certain nutrient and minerals from your body and this may cause a shortage.
BabyCenter. Co.ke recommends the use of magnesium supplements to ease the leg cramps. However, you are supposed to seek the advice of your healthcare provider before taking any supplements or drugs during pregnancy.
- Decreased Circulation of Blood to the Legs
As the fetus continues to grow, the uterus also increases in size and exerts pressure on the main blood vessels that supply blood to and from the legs. The pressure may decrease circulation in the legs and hence resulting cramps in the calf muscles.
- Lack of Stretching before exercise
Exercise is basic for a healthy life. Exercise during pregnancy is important and helpful for you and the baby too. However, it is important to take certain precautions to avoid damage to you and the unborn baby. For instance, it is important to stretch your muscles before the exercise. This helps to prevent muscle cramps that may occur after the exercise.
Dehydration simply means that your body is losing water faster than you are taking. Pregnant mothers are supposed to stay hydrated all the time. Water plays a very big role in your health and development of the baby. Dehydration during pregnancy symptoms can manifest itself in various ways that include le muscle cramps and overheat.
Leg cramps in pregnancy are most often at night. Don’t be afraid if you are awakened with sudden painful muscle spasm. They may not be fun but they are not a cause for concern. However, you are supposed to consult your healthcare provider if they are severe and are deterring from having enough sleep.
Leg Cramps during Pregnancy at Night
Pain that occurs in legs during the night is referred to as nocturnal leg cramps. They may cause awakening from sleep but they can still occur at night while you are awake. They usually affect pregnant women during the period of inactivity.
They are usually characterized by sudden pain in the calf muscles that result from involuntary contraction. They are less common in the feet and thighs. They can last for few seconds or up to 10 minutes. Nocturnal thigh muscle cramps last longer as compared to calf muscle cramps.
The affected muscles can also feel tight or knotted and you may experience some muscle soreness after the cramps have gone away. Although nocturnal muscle cramps are common among pregnant women, they can also affect anybody, especially those that are above the age of 50 years.
Apart from pregnancy, nocturnal cramps are linked to other medical conditions and medications that include:
- Long sitting in cramped position
- Standing for long periods on concrete floor
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Structural disorders like flat feet
- Endocrine disorders
- Side effects of certain drugs
- Diuretics and Parkinson’s diseases among other conditions.
What can you do to avoid or prevent cramps from happening at night? This is a question that many pregnant mothers ask. There are certain this you can do to put these cramps at bay. They include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids during the day to stay hydrated. It is recommended to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
- Stretch your legs and gently apply a massage on the calf muscles before going to bed.
- Do some exercise that may include walking during the day or riding a stationary bicycle before going to bed.
- Avoid sleeping in tucked bed sheets. It is important to keep blanket and sheets loose around your legs and feet to prevent distortion.
- Wear well-fitting shoes that do not apply pressure on the leg muscles.
However, if you are experiencing frequent, severe and painful leg cramps at night that interferes with your sleep, don’t hesitate to visit your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.
Leg Cramps during Pregnancy Boy or Girl
According to community.babycenter.com, a mother of 3 that is expecting the fourth baby has the following opinion ‘’ I know this sounds weird but maybe it’s just my body. I have 2 boys and during my pregnancies, with them, I would get lower leg cramps, my entire calf would tighten in the middle of the night and in the morning when I would stretch. When I was pregnant with my daughter I had absolutely nothing even remotely resembling a leg cramp. Now I’m pregnant with my last little one and I’ve been stretching a lot….I’m wondering if my legs are going to start cramping again. Lol anyone else has this experience?’’
From the comments, another mother of 2 babies said that ‘’ had cramps with both son and daughter…never found out what caused it. This time I am trying to walk every day and drink liquids, I was terrible with drinking my first two pregnancies, never felt I was hydrating enough. No clue. This third pregnancy- no sign of them yet. Fingers crossed!’’
From the research, it is believed that leg cramps in pregnancy linked to the increased weight of the unborn baby or babies. In this case, when expecting twins, more pressure is exerted on the veins that supply blood to and from the legs and you may experience severe cramping as compared to when having a single baby in the womb. Therefore, cramps have nothing to do with the gender of the baby.
Leg Cramps during Pregnancy Third Trimester
No one knows the exact cause of leg cramps especially during the second and third trimester of pregnancy. However, doctors believe that it is due to pressure to certain nerves, decreases blood circulation on the lower part of the body due to pressure on blood vessels and fatigue.
Leg cramps can occur at any time during the third trimester are more common during the night. You may be awakened by sudden painful muscle cramps in your calf muscles. When not treated, they can interfere with your ability to have a good night’s sleep.
In most cases, leg cramps do not affect your unborn baby. They can only affect the baby when they result from factors like dehydration and deficiency of certain nutrients and minerals that are vital for normal development of a baby.
You can ease pain and soreness of leg cramps in pregnancy by taking painkillers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Remember to consult your doctor before taking strong painkillers while you are pregnant.
Leg Cramps During Pregnancy Won’t go away
Leg cramps in pregnancy that won’t go away is an agony that any women may not want to go through. According to community.babycenter.com, Kellea had persistence leg muscle cramps and she had the following to say, ‘’ Thursday morning I got a very bad cramp in my calf. Now Friday night it still hurts so bad I can barely walk. Anyone have this? Anything I can do?? It’s so painful!’’
Sayra, who had gone through the same agony had the following to say, ‘’ I had that a few weeks ago and called my doctor because I haven’t ever cramped up that bad. He asked a couple things:
1- Any swelling?
2- Any redness?
3- Is it warm to the touch?
To rule out a blood clot. The calf is one of the top places pregnant women get clots. My leg was a little swollen (I think water retention) so he had me go in and get an ultrasound done to be sure it was okay. It was, thank goodness, but it still hurt like crazy.
He had me massage my leg and elevate it as much as possible. He also had me ice it and then put warm washcloths on it right after. It helped a little but not much. It eventually calmed down. Sorry!! I know what you’re going through’’.
Leg Cramps during Pregnancy Remedy
Leg muscle cramps during pregnancy are common due to extra weight, dehydration, deficiency of certain minerals and lack of exercise among others. However, there are various home remedies that you can use to ease or prevent cramping during pregnancy. They include the following:
- Take More Fluids
Dehydration is among the major factors that contribute to leg cramps in pregnancy. To treat or prevent leg muscle cramps, you have to rehydrate yourself as quickly as possible. Drinking water regularly helps to ease contraction and relaxation of muscles in your body. To keep cramps at bay during the night, you have to take plenty of water and other fluids during the day. It is recommended to:
- Take at least 8 glasses of water during the day.
- Avoid staying outdoors for long hours or in a hot
- Take at least 2 glasses of water before exercise or going to bed.
- Apart from water, you can take fruits and vegetables that are juicy to prevent dehydration
- Apply warm or cold compress
Warm and cold compress are excellent remedies for leg muscle cramps during pregnancy. Warm compress helps to relax the leg muscles while a cold compress can help to alleviate the pain that is associated with cramps. How to use:
- Place a clean towel in hot water.
- Remove the towel from the water and squeeze it to get rid of excess water.
- Place the towel on the calf muscle of your leg until when it cools.
- Alternatively, you can wrap ice cubes in a clean towel and place it over the affected area.
- Take a Warm Epsom Salt Bath to get Rid of Leg Cramps in Pregnancy
Taking a warm Epsom salt bath before going to bed is the effective remedy to get rid of muscle cramps at night during pregnancy. It helps to relax the muscles as well as improving blood circulation to all parts of your body including the legs. How to use:
- Add 2 cups of Epsom salt in a bathtub containing warm water.
- Stir them well to mix and soak yourself in the bathtub for 20 minutes
- Apply natural oils like vitamin E on the leg muscles and go to bed.
- Drink Plain Yogurt
Apart from the good bacteria in yogurt, it also contains calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Deficiency of these minerals also contributes to the occurrence of muscle cramps during pregnancy. Both your body and that of the developing requires them for development of bones and muscle support. How to use:
- Take at least 1 cup of yogurt a day.
- You can also use it as a base for creamy salad dressing.
- Spice up the cereal and milk by making a fruit-cereal-yogurt.
- Eat Pumpkin Seeds Regularly
When suffering from leg cramps in pregnancy due to mineral and nutrient deficiency, it is a good idea to incorporate pumpkin seeds into your diet. They are rich magnesium that is vital for a normal muscle contraction and relaxation. To use this remedy:
- Add pumpkin seeds into a salad for some crunch.
- Sprinkle onto yogurt and take with some fruits
- You can also use them as a crust for pork or salmon
- Use a Yellow Mustard
Yellow mustard provides a great relief from muscle cramps during pregnancy. It contains acetic acid that facilitates production of acetylcholine in your body. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that stimulates muscles in legs for proper contraction and relaxation as well as soreness and pain relief. How to use:
- Prepare 1 teaspoon of yellow mustard and mix with 1 cup of milk
- Consume the mixture every day for proper contraction and relaxation of leg muscles.
- Blackstrap Molasses
Leg cramps that are associated with calcium and potassium deficiency can be treated using Blackstrap Molasses. It is rich in calcium and potassium that is vital for bone formation and muscle support. Using this remedy regularly helps to keep leg cramps at bay. How to use:
- Mix 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses with a glass of warm milk.
- Drink the mixture to get rid of leg cramps.
- Drink the mixture regularly to treat leg cramps.
Leg Cramps during Pregnancy Treatment
It is easier to treat leg cramps in pregnancy especially when the cause is known. Some of the treatment include the following:
Most cases of leg cramps in pregnancy can be treated with exercise. It plays an important role in stretching the muscles that are affected. There are two types of exercise you can do to treat leg cramps i.e.
- Exercising during cramping
During an episode of cramping, exercising helps to relieve pain and stop cramping. Stretching and massaging the calf muscles can help to relieve the discomfort. This can be done by straightening your legs, lifting the foot upward and bending the leg at the ankle. You can also walk around on your heels for several minutes.
- Exercising to prevent cramps
To prevent the leg cramps in pregnancy from happening at night, you have to exercise several times during the day. The exercise should involve stretching the calf muscles. For instance, if your calf muscles are affected by cramps at night, it is important to do some exercise before going to bed.
The exercise may involve standing a meter from the wall, lean forward to touch the wall while the sole of your feet is flat on the floor. Hold yourself in this position for some minutes before releasing. Repeat the exercise for five minutes.
If you are having severe leg cramping and persistence pain after the episode of cramping, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as Paracetamol or ibuprofen to alleviate the pain and other discomforts.
Prescribed muscle relaxants such as acetaminophen are effective on how to get rid of severe and painful muscle cramps but it is not advisable to use during pregnancy.
Leg Cramps during Pregnancy Prevention
To ease the severity of leg muscle cramp during pregnancy, it is important to:
- Regular Exercise.
It is important to have regular exercise during pregnancy unless if your healthcare provider has advised you not to do so. This includes taking a walk every day or swimming. It helps to prevent cramps as well as for the development of the fetus.
Prior to and after exercise, it is important to start by stretching yourself. However, you are not supposed to point your toes when exercising as it can trigger a cramp. Instead, you are supposed to flex the feet and lift the toes towards the knees.
- Take Calcium and Magnesium Supplements
It is believed that deficiency of calcium and magnesium during pregnancy can result in leg muscle cramps. It is therefore advisable to take adequate of these minerals for support of your bone muscles and development of the fetus.
When pregnant, your body needs about 1000mgs of calcium each day. Therefore, it is important to take calcium supplements and other foods that are rich in this mineral. Your diet should contain plenty of calcium-rich foods like raw milk, kale, sardines, yogurt, broccoli, watercress, and cheese, Bok Choy, Okra and Almond among others.
On the other hand, magnesium plays a role in reducing muscle spasm. Therefore, your diet should also contain foods rich in magnesium like spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, almond, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate, and banana. However, you are supposed to conduct your healthcare provider before taking any supplement during pregnancy.
- Drink Plenty of Water
Drink water regularly during the day to stay well hydrated. It helps in proper contraction and relaxation of the muscles. It is also important to prevent dehydration by avoiding strenuous exercise and spending more time outdoors in a hot environment.
Dehydration does not only increase muscle spasm, it may also lead to various pregnancy complications that include low amniotic fluid, neural tube defects, low milk production and even premature childbirth.
- Proper Sleeping Position
Assuming the correct position when sleeping can also help to prevent leg muscle cramps during pregnancy. You are supposed to lie on your left side while sleeping to improve blood circulation to and from the legs.
It is also important to provide enough space for the movement of feet at night. In case you are sleeping in a tucked in bedding, ensure the toes are not pointing downwards as it can cause severe cramping.
- Stretch and Massage the Calf Muscles
After exercise, stretch and massage the calf muscles, it helps to relax the tissues. This can be done for few minutes before going to bed. Stand half a meter from the wall, place the hands on the wall and move the right foot to the other one and slowly bend the left foot forward. This should be done while keeping your right knees straight and the right heel on the floor. Hold the stretch for a half a minutes. Switch the other legs and repeat the stretches for 10 minutes.
- Choose Correct Footwear
When buying a pair of shoes, ensure that it is comfortable, has enough space and supports the weight of your body. According to Mayoclinic, wearing a shoe with firm heel counter can help to prevent leg muscle cramps.
More Sources and References:
- What causes leg cramps during pregnancy, and can they be prevented? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/leg-cramps-during-pregnancy/faq-20057766
- Leg Cramps [pregnancy sleep]: https://www.babycentre.co.uk/a547374/leg-cramps-pregnancy-sleep
- Pregnancy and leg cramps: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/leg-cramps-during-pregnancy/
- Leg cramps during pregnancy: https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/symptoms-and-solutions/leg-cramps.aspx
- Leg cramps and leg pain: https://www.webmd.com/baby/leg-cramps
- Leg cramps at night during pregnancy: https://www.modernmom.com/2d346fae-051f-11e2-9d62-404062497d7e.html
- Muscle cramps during pregnancy: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/muscle-cramps-during-pregnancy/
- How to stop muscle cramps during pregnancy: https://www.motherrisingbirth.com/2015/05/musclecramps.html
- 25 natural home remedies for leg cramps you should know: http://vkool.com/home-remedies-for-leg-cramps/
- Leg cramps: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/leg-cramps/treatment/
- Nocturnal Leg cramps: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/nocturnal-leg-cramps
- Leg cramps related to baby’s gender? https://community.babycenter.com/post/a40511290/leg_cramps_related_to_babys_gender