Between your overloaded mind and your bulging belly, you probably have enough trouble catching those z’s without leg cramps cramping your sleeping style. Unfortunately, these painful spasms that radiate up and down your calves and occur most often at night are very common among the expectant set in the second and third trimesters.
No one’s quite sure what causes leg cramps. Various theories blame fatigue from carrying pregnancy weight, compression of the blood vessels in the legs, and possibly diet (an excess of phosphorus and a shortage of calcium or magnesium). You might as well blame hormones, too, since they seem to cause so many pregnancy aches and pains.
Whatever the causes, there are ways of both preventing and alleviating them:
- When a leg cramp strikes, be sure to straighten your leg and flex your ankle and toes slowly up towards your nose (don’t point your toes). This should soon lessen the pain. Doing this several times with each leg beforeturning in at night may even help ward off the cramps.
- Stretching exercises can also help stop cramps before they strike. Before you head to bed, stand about 2 feet away from a wall and put your palms flat against it. Lean forward, keeping your heels on the floor. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, then relax for 5. Try this three times.
- To ease the daily load on your legs, put your feet up as often as you can, alternate periods of activity with periods of rest, and wear support hose during the day. Flex your feet periodically.
- Try standing on a cold surface, which can sometimes stop a spasm.
- You can add massage or local heat for added relief, but don’t massage or add heat if neither flexing nor cold helps the situation.
- Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids—at least eight glasses a day.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of calcium and magnesium.
Really bad cramps can cause muscle soreness that lasts a few days. That’s nothing to worry about. But if the pain is severe and persists, contact your practitioner because there’s a slight possibility that a blood clot may have developed in a vein, making medical treatment necessary.