You’re pregnant! You’re gonna be a mama! No matter what your journey to pregnancy looked like (or whether this is your first bambino or your tenth), you’re no doubt over the moon about that tiny bean growing inside your belly. However, just because you’re excited about the baby doesn’t mean you can’t be miserable while pregnant. There are many weird and awful things you might experience during pregnancy, from Braxton-Hicks contractions to pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. All of which — and more — can leave you feeling just downright exhausted. Among that “and more”? Maybe you have truly awful leg cramps during pregnancy.
If it’s not the incessant need to pee or the constant feeling like you’re off-balance, it’s the genuinely terrible pregnancy heartburn (or morning sickness). And when it’s none of those things, it’s Charley horses ripping through your calves. In the moment, it can be hard even to make your brain compute while you writhe around in pain. The whys and hows don’t matter. You just need it to stop. Please. Now!
But what the actual crap is going on with your body, and how can you make it stop? We’re here with answers and a bit of help.
When, why, and how do leg cramps start?
Pregnancy leg cramp causes are a veritable guessing game for doctors, but they typically start in the second or third trimester of pregnancy, and that alone offers some clues. Your cramps might be from muscle strains as your legs adjust to the new weight of carrying a child or your new way of balancing yourself. It could also be how much of your necessary vitamins and minerals you now share with that growing bebe in your belly. In particular, your body might be running low on calcium or magnesium.
These painful leg cramps might even be related to your current plethora of pregnancy hormones, making you more aware of the feeling of the blood vessels in your legs constricting or compressing. In other words, figuring out which one (or more) of these is your issue will take some trial and error.
How can you prevent leg cramps during pregnancy?
Because we don’t know the exact reason your legs are cramping, it can be a bit hard to troubleshoot and fix the problem immediately. There are things you can try, though, and see if they work for you.
Take Your Prenatal Vitamins Every Single Day
This is harder than it seems, we know. Those buggers often create their own issues. But prenatal vitamins are packed with all the vital things you and your baby need that your body just can’t produce enough of on its own. And, hey, know pregnancy brain is real — entrust your partner to give you a gentle reminder, set a standing appointment on your calendar, or just set a daily alarm.
Make Healthy Food Choices
You can’t rely on the vitamins to do all the work. Eating ultra-healthy isn’t always easy, thanks to the price of fresh ingredients and the daily load women carry thanks to the patriarchy. It’s OK to simply eat “healthier.” Switch the fries for a fruit cup, or opt for the salad (even if you go with the crispy chicken instead of grilled). Minor changes added up over time can make a big difference. And, hey, drink some water — hydration is key to reducing cramps. When pregnant, you should drink about eight to 12 cups of water a day. A simple way to check if you’re drinking enough water is to check your urine. It should be clear or a very faint yellow color. If it’s a strong yellow or amber color, you should probably hydrate more.
Wear Compression Hose
By week 30, you might need help pulling these puppies onto your feet and up over your calves, but they make a world of difference. Compression socks aren’t just some trendy home remedy like oils or healing crystals. Doctors literally prescribe these things to patients with circulation issues so their insurance will pay for them. You don’t need to have a doctor’s note to buy them, however. Improving your circulation will reduce swelling in your feet, ankles, and calves. This will help your vessels stay open and doing their job.
Wear Comfy Shoes
To avoid cramps in your legs, make sure you’re wearing appropriate footwear like sneakers. Your body is adjusting to the additional weight of your baby during your pregnancy, so your feet have to be comfortable. Shoes should also fit well and provide support. As an expecting mother, whether you’re walking or just plain ol’ existing, the right shoes can save you from discomfort and injury.
Take Care of Yourself
While we could argue that all of the above points are also ways to take care of yourself, what we’re talking about here is something a little closer to pampering. Do pregnancy stretches to loosen and warm up your muscles. Don’t push yourself — take breaks when doing physical activities, even just on walks around the mall. And put your feet up! Grab an ottoman or steal your spouse’s recliner and keep your feet elevated as often as possible. You might even want to consider putting a pillow under your feet while lying in bed.
Stretch Before Going to Sleep
We all know stretching is key, but it also matters when you stretch. Expanding your ligaments before bed or doing a quick calf stretch before going to sleep will help minimize the chance leg cramps will keep you up at night.
When you’re pregnant, it can be hard to stay active; we get it. Still, it’s important to keep moving to ward off leg cramps. Take time to rest, but remember staying active is not only good for you but for the baby too. Exercising or even a daily walk around the neighborhood is a great way to keep your limbs loose and get rid of muscle fatigue.
Put a Bar of Soap in the Bed
Feeling desperate for results? Here’s another interesting trick you can try to prevent leg cramps and help with restless leg syndrome: Put a bar of soap underneath your fitted sheet or anywhere on the bed. The magnesium in the soap is supposed to aid in muscle relaxation and reduced leg pain. Granted, it doesn’t work for everyone. If leg cramps are sending you to the edge of your sanity, though, it’s worth a shot.
How do you treat pregnancy leg cramps in the moment?
When your legs are already cramping, what can you do to ease the pain as quickly as possible? There are a few things you can try.
Flex, Stretch, and Rub
Pull your toes toward your shins. You can do this by physically grabbing your toes and pulling them up and back towards your shins. You can also accomplish this by standing on your heels with a thick book under your toes. In the old days, they suggested using a phonebook, but who has those anymore? You can’t exactly hop up and go get a massage in the middle of the night when leg cramps are typically at their worst. You can, however, watch some YouTube videos on how to massage your own calves — or how to make your partner do it properly.
Try Cool or Warm Therapy
Try cold first. Keep ice packs in the freezer and, at the first sign of trouble, wrap your ice packs in a towel and apply to the aches. Getting up and standing on the cold floor can help. Even standing in the tub and letting the faucet run cold water over your legs can make a difference. (Just don’t put yourself through the trauma of a cold shower or bath — you only need coolness on your calves.)
If the cold doesn’t work? Try warmth. A warm compress, heating pad, those heat therapy stick-on patches, or yes, even warm running water might do the trick. With hot or cold, though, move on if you don’t feel relatively quick relief.
What if nothing helps?
Time to talk to the doc! Keep a list of all the prevention methods you’ve tried. Explain the pain and ask for her to investigate further. A quick blood test might reveal that your body just needs even more of a specific vitamin — but don’t start taking extra vitamins until you talk to her and get the official recommendation.
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