I've now been pregnant three times and they've all been uncomplicated and relatively mild. While carrying a human being for nine months is never a walk in the park, I've had the good fortune to not have to worry about the health of my baby or deal with side effects like constant vomiting. All in all, I know I've been lucky. The only real exception is the leg cramps. Dear god, the leg cramps. They're so bad that when they hit, I can't even walk, often lasting 10 minutes or more. Thankfully, there are some pregnancy leg cramp remedies that experts say will nip the problem in the bud. I can't say I ever resolved the issue completely by implementing this advice, but it is true that my leg cramps became much less frequent the more I tried to do so.
Experts aren't sure what exactly causes the pregnancy leg cramps that rear their ugly head in the second and third trimesters, but it is generally assumed to be either dehydration or impeded blood circulation. Some also caution that anemia can be a culprit as well. Since everybody is different, finding the remedy that works for you might take a bit of trial and error.
If dehydration is the cause, as Certified Nurse Midwife Patricia Evans believes it usually is, the obvious solution is to drink more water throughout the day. Pregnant women require even more water than everyone else — Evans tells Romper you should actually be drinking half your weight in ounces of water each day. (For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you need 80 ounces of water daily.) Doing so consistently, she attests, will decrease the frequency of leg cramps.
Michelle Barcus, CNM, tells Romper that some research suggests magnesium supplements might help, too. Careful, though, Barcus warns: Magnesium supplements have been known to cause diarrhea. If you want to go a bit easier on your system, try going straight to the source. Nuts, legumes, dried fruits, and dark green leafy veggies are all excellent sources of magnesium.
Barcus also reminds pregnant women experiencing leg cramps to be sure to monitor for anemia, as some data suggests iron deficiency may be a cause. Talk to your provider about testing and supplementation, but remember, the best thing you can do is discipline yourself to eat a lot of iron-rich foods on a daily basis, such as dark green leafy veggies. (Are we sensing a theme here?)
Since leg cramps usually happen in the night, Evans says other remedies to try include stretching your calf muscles before going to bed, slightly elevating your feet with pillows to increase circulation, and being sure to wear high quality shoes during the day. Barcus agrees and adds 20 minutes of daily exercise to the prevention regimen, since staying active helps mobilize fluids and blood flow.
Wondering what to do in the heat of the moment when the lightning strikes? The midwives are unanimous: Don't just lay still. "To remedy a muscle cramp while it’s happening, actively stretch the calf muscle," says Barcus. "Runners-type stretching on the Achilles are good to do. Flexing the ankle back and forth to stretch the muscle help as well."
Evans agrees. "If you’re woken with leg cramps during sleep, reaching down and grabbing your toes and pulling them towards your knee can help to release the muscle from its contraction. Sometimes standing and planting your heel firmly on the floor will help to stretch the muscle in the opposite direction, thus releasing the contraction," she says.
Above all, remember to breathe slowly as it will help to relax all of your muscles. Hey, just look at it as free practice for breathing through those contractions. If you can handle those vicious pregnancy leg cramps, you can handle anything.