During the second and third trimesters, you may have painful leg cramps, particularly at night or while sleeping. You may also have a jumpy feeling in your legs. Leg cramps tend to occur more often during the last months of pregnancy.
Causes of leg cramps during pregnancy
Leg cramps are a sudden tightening of muscles, which can cause intense pain. The muscles may tighten for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Lack of fluids
- Muscle strain
- Staying in the same position for a long period of time
- Blood circulation problems or pressure on the nerves in the spine
The reasons for increased leg cramps during pregnancy aren't clear. They may be caused by:
- Changes in blood circulation during pregnancy
- The stress on your leg muscles of carrying the extra weight of pregnancy
- The pressure of the growing baby on the nerves and blood vessels that go to your legs
Experts once thought that most leg cramps were caused by not eating enough healthy foods with calcium. They no longer believe that this is true. (But, calcium is important to your baby's development and it helps keep your own bones strong and healthy. Be sure you are eating enough dairy products and other foods that contain calcium during pregnancy.)
What you can do
Here are some tips to prevent or relieve leg cramps:
- Stretching your legs (especially your calves) before going to bed can help reduce your chances of getting leg cramps.
- When you feel a cramp in your leg, straighten your leg—heel first—and wiggle your toes.
- Avoid pointing your toes when stretching or exercising.
Don't stay still
- If you sit or stand for long periods of time, take several breaks and move around.
- With your provider's OK, regular exercise, such as a daily walk, can help prevent leg cramps.
- If you're able to stand, walking for a few minutes when you have a leg cramp can help ease the pain and relax the muscle.
Drink plenty of fluids
- Avoid getting dehydrated.
- Be sure to drink plenty of water during the day.
Massage your legs and apply heat
- When you have a leg cramp, relax the muscle through gentle massage, or heat the muscle with a warm towel or hot water bottle.
- A warm bath before bedtime may also help to relax your muscles and prevent leg cramps.
When to talk to your health care provider
Leg cramps usually go away on their own without medical treatment. But they can be a sign of a more serious problem. Talk to your health care provider right away if:
- The pain is frequent and severe
- You notice any redness, warmth, swelling or tenderness in your leg
Last reviewed December 2013
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know you're pregnant?
Knowing the signs of pregnancy can help you tell if you’re pregnant. Here are some signs that you might be pregnant:
If you have any of these pregnancy signs and think you may be pregnant, go to your health care provider. The sooner you know you're pregnant, the sooner you can begin prenatal checkups and start taking good care of yourself and your growing baby.
Is my baby moving enough?
You'll start feeling your baby's kicks at around the 28th week of pregnancy. By this time, your baby's movements are usually well established and some health care providers recommend keeping track of these movements.
- Track kick counts at about the same time each day when your baby is active.
- Track kick counts shortly after you've eaten a meal (when your baby may be most active).
- Sit or lay on your side, place your hands on your belly and monitor baby's movement.
- Mark every movement down on a piece of paper. Don't count baby's hiccups.
Keep counting until you've felt 10 movements from baby. If baby doesn't move 10 times within 1 hour, try again later that day. Call your health provider if your baby's movement seems unusual or you've tried more than once that day and can't feel baby move 10 times or more during 1 hour.
When will I start feeling my baby move?
Popcorn popping. A little fish swimming. Bubbles. Butterflies. Tickles. These are common words used by women to describe their baby's first movements. Also known as "quickening," it's a reassuring sign that your baby is OK and growing. This milestone typically starts sometime between 18 to 25 weeks into pregnancy. For first-time moms, it may occur closer to 25 weeks, and for second- or third-time moms, it may happen much sooner.
At first it may be difficult to tell the difference between gas and your baby moving. You might not feel movement as early as you are expecting to feel it, but you'll notice a pattern soon. You'll start to learn when the baby is most active and what seems to get her moving.