Leg Cramps in Pregnancy

Pain in the LegLeg cramps are a common condition in pregnancy.  These bothersome cramps can be the result of circulation changes, carrying extra weight, or mineral deficiencies.  They can also be caused by lack of exercise or, conversely, exercise that is too vigorous.  In the case of the former, this lack of exercise also decreases the body’s mineral absorption, compounding the problem.

Leg cramps in pregnancy are often worse at night.  Some women experience sharp strong cramps, while others may have dull, vague, achy, pulling, restless leg sensations.

Muscle spasms that cause leg cramps in pregnancy are often caused by a lack of calcium, magnesium, and/or iron.

When a muscle cramp strikes, these may help in the moment:

  • Stand up and place your foot flat and push your heels into the ground.  Massage the muscle vigorously and firmly.
  • Flex your foot by gently holding it and curling your toes up toward your knee.  Massage the calf.  You can do this standing or lying down.

Don’t massage an area that has varicose veins.

Here are some other ways to get some relief:

  • Avoid pointing your toes, as this can bring on cramps
  • Walk daily and do leg exercises, such as leg lifts and lunges.  Swimming is also great.  This encourages circulation and reduces cramping.
  • Elevate your legs for 20 minutes a day to improve circulation, with your legs above your heart.  Elevate periodically throughout the day when possible.
  • Avoid tight clothing
  • Soak your feet in hot water at the end of the day (consider adding wintergreen or camphor oil, and/or fresh grated ginger root)
  • Use a hot pack (rice pack, hot water bottle, etc) on the affected area
  • Prepare a compress of lavender essential oil to the affected area
  • Increase your fluid intake to 2 to 3 liters a day
  • Sleep with your feet raised above your head, by padding the end of the bed or propping the mattress up at the bottom.
  • Reflexology can help improve circulation and reduce and prevent cramping
  • Massage the affected areas, especially before bed.  Massage with an oil containing St. Johns’ Wort, arnica, and chamomile (available at co-op)

Dietary recommendations

  • Speak with your midwife about supplementing with liquid calcium/magnesium.
  • Eat foods high in calcium and magnesium: Spinach, Broccoli, Tofu, Dairy, Sardines, Tahini, Cooked egg yolks, Dried figs, Watercress, Cashews, Parsley
  • Vitamin E can reduce cramping.  Check with your midwife to be sure it is safe to take 200IU per day.  Whole grains, eggs, cold-pressed oils, sunflower seds, molasses, and wheat germ are some vitamin E rich foods.
  • Vitamin C deficiency can also cause leg cramps.  Make sure it is safe to take 2,000 mg daily.
  • Salt deficiency can also cause leg gramps so salt your food to taste with sea salt.
  • Herbs rich in calcium include nettle, chamomile, oatstraw, and dandelion leaf.
  • Speak with your midwife to see if black haw or cramp bark tincture is appropriate for you.