You expected the nausea. You expected the stretch marks. You even expected getting up 900 times a night to pee. What you might not have expected while expecting? Feeling like your calves are being chewed on by a pack of wild dingoes. Why in the world does pregnancy give leg cramp pains?
These searing shoots of pain often pop up in the second or third trimester. They also tend to occur in the middle of the night, jolting you out of sleep. Dr. Kameelah Phillips, M.D., OB-GYN and the founder of Calla Women's Health, tells Romper that the medical reason for pregnancy legs cramps is largely unknown. "There is not going to be a lot of research on why pregnant women have them, because — while very bothersome and downright painful — it is not typically a sign of anything dangerous."
What Causes Leg Cramps & Pain During Pregnancy
However, Phillips says there are a few theories behind the leg pain. "They range from a change in circulation, an increase in weight, and/or increased stress on your legs from pregnancy. Other theories include a lack of hydration, as well as a deficiency in minerals like calcium, magnesium, or potassium."
The good news is that leg cramps aren't anything a mom-to-be should be freaked out about, as they are super common. As Phillips says, "Yes they are painful and can interrupt sleep, but they are not life-threatening."
How To Treat Pregnancy Leg Cramps
Good, good. But this doesn't really help to solve the problem of wanting to saw your own legs off at 3 a.m. So Phillips does offer a few simple tips on how to possibly decrease cramping: "Regular movement throughout the day and stretching prior to bed may be helpful. Also, sleeping with your legs elevated can help decrease swelling." She recommends trying to stop the cramps before they set in. One way to maybe do this is to immediately rub the cramps out and use a heating pack to release the muscle.
Dr. Jennifer Butt, M.D., is an OB-GYN with Upper East Side Obstetrics & Gynecology, and she says magnesium supplementation may help in a reduction of leg cramps, but some studies show that this may be a placebo effect. "Stretching can also be helpful in preventing cramps," says Butt, "but when a cramp occurs, massage, a warm bath, and increasing hydration" are your best bets.
Another option might be to try some prenatal yoga. The site Do You Yoga offers several poses targeted specifically toward easing pregnancy leg cramp pain. There's the very fancy-sounding "paschimottanasana" (a name that makes my tongue cramp just looking at it) and the not-so-fancy-sounding "pigeon pose."
Personally, I think women should enlist their partners in the job of Leg Rubber in Chief. It's the least they can do, really, as they lie beside you in their own blissful snooze. I suggest giving them a little kick and informing them that there will be no sleep for anyone until your calves have been soothed, so they best flex those fingers and get to work.
Dr. Kameelah Phillips, M.D., OB-GYN and the founder of Calla Women's Health
Dr. Jennifer Butt, M.D., OB-GYN with Upper East Side Obstetrics & Gynecology