Those stabbing calf pains that wake you up at 2:00 a.m.? One of the not so fun parts of pregnancy. I thought I knew what leg cramps felt like -- until I hit the third trimester. It’s not a dull ache or general soreness, but an OMGWHATISHAPPENING sensation when you panic, suddenly realizing you can’t flex your foot because your calf muscle has gone rigid.
I’d always assumed that pregnancy leg cramps were a sign of dehydration or maybe because I needed to eat another banana, but it turns out that there’s no real consensus on what causes them. According to the March of Dimes, doctors cite a variety of potential causes for pregnancy leg cramps, including changes in blood circulation, stress on leg muscles from carrying around extra weight, and/or the increased pressure applied to blood vessels and nerves by a growing baby.
So how can you prevent leg cramps during pregnancy?
- Take magnesium supplements. There isn’t much evidence to support calcium or sodium supplements, as previously recommended, but growing research suggests that a magnesium supplement might be beneficial. One study of women who took an oral magnesium supplement indicated a significant reduction in both intensity and frequency of leg cramps during pregnancy compared to a control group (Supakatisant and Phupong 2012). The women in the study took 300 mg of magnesium bisglycinate chelate daily and saw a 50% improvement in their leg cramps. Obviously, this is an ASK YOUR DOCTOR FIRST recommendation, but it’s worth checking into if your leg cramps are killing you.
- Stretch before bed. Try a “runner’s stretch” or a “standing calf stretch” before bedtime. The runner’s stretch looks like this. Hold it for 30 seconds on each side, being careful to keep your feet parallel. Also, avoid pointing your toes - while stretching or at bed at night.
- Drink more water. Even though dehydration isn’t a specific cause of pregnancy leg cramps, staying well hydrated can still help ward off the pain (Mayo Clinic). The general recommendation is that pregnant women should drink 8-10 8 oz glasses of water per day. If you’re unsure about your hydration level, you can always reference this helpful urine color chart from the Cleveland Clinic.
How can you find relief when a leg cramp does strike in the middle of the night?