Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
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Is there no end to the list of niggles, and aches and pains women must suffer during pregnancy? Leg cramps are common during the second and third trimester. For some they are infrequent and mild, for other women they can become quite painful and affect them on a daily basis.
What causes leg cramps?
As yet there is no definitive answer to this question. However, there are a number of plausible theories, and it is likely that your leg cramps are a result of a combination of factors.
Firstly, the fact that cramps become more of a problem for women the further they get into their pregnancy suggests that it could be a weight-related issue. It is possible that the increased weight is compressing the blood vessels in the legs which in turn causes discomfort.
Diet may well have a part to play in causing leg cramps during pregnancy. There is some credence given to the idea that cramps can be caused by a lack of calcium or potassium in your diet. Or by too much phosphorus, which restricts your calcium uptake. Fatigue is also thought to contribute to cramps and it is common for women to suffer from tiredness more towards the end of their pregnancy.
Should I be worried about leg cramps during pregnancy?
No, unless the pain becomes severe. Unfortunately, leg cramps are simply a common (if annoying) side effect of pregnancy. Don't worry that their onset is a sign that you have gained too much weight or that your diet is harming your baby - unless your midwife suggests that this is the case. As long as you are following a good exercise and diet for your pregnancy the chances are that your leg cramps are not the result of any condition that will affect your unborn baby.
What can I do to prevent leg cramps?
Stretching is one of the most effective ways of relieving leg cramps and can also help to prevent them happening at all. Leg cramps tend to strike most often in the evening especially when you are in bed. Before you go to bed, get into the routine of performing a few simple leg stretching exercises. Firstly, flex your ankle and toes towards your face slowly, and hold the position there for 10 seconds, repeat several times on each leg. Another easy exercise can be performed by standing facing a wall, resting your palms against it as though in an upright push-up position. Keep your feet about 50cm from the wall and lean forward, whilst keeping your heels on the floor. You will feel the stretch up the back of your calves. Try doing 3 repetitions of this, holding each stretch for at least 10 seconds.
If stretching helps, you might also find that a massage to your legs, or the application of a hot or cold compress could relieve your cramps. You may find that a warm bath before bed helps both your muscles and your mind to relax, thereby aiding a good night's sleep.
To combat the effect of the increased weight on your legs, elevate them and rest whenever you get the chance. However, you should also ensure that you spend time doing light exercise and moving around to help your circulation. The key is to find a balance of exercise and rest. If you are sitting at your desk for long periods of time then try to remember to wriggle your toes and flex your feet often as this will help to keep your circulation going. Try to sit squarely, with your legs parallel, not crossed. This will help to prevent cramp as well as lower back pain. Remember that sleeping on your left side at night will also help to improve your circulation.
Whilst it is true that diet might have an effect on leg cramps, you shouldn't rush out to get more supplements when the pain strikes, just make sure that you are eating a healthy diet and that you are well hydrated. Remember that waiting until you feel thirsty before getting a drink means that you waited too long. You can get more calcium by eating foods such as curly kale, tofu or red kidney beans. Potassium can be found in spinach, broccoli and tomatoes. To reduce your intake of phosphorous you may want to restrict the amount of processed meats and dairy products that you consume, but provided you are getting enough calcium this really shouldn't be necessary. Supplements approved for use during pregnancy are safe to take, provided you let your doctor know that you are taking them. However, there should be no need to take additional supplements unless you are specifically advised to by your doctor.