Leg cramps

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
  • Injury
  • 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:

Stretch

  • 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.

Exercise

  • 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

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
  • Injury
  • 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:

Stretch

  • 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.

Exercise

  • 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