Along with swelling and varicose veins, leg cramps are a normal but sometimes uncomfortable part of pregnancy. Knowing what to do when you get a cramp and how to prevent cramps from happening can make your pregnancy a bit more comfortable.
What are cramps and why are they common during pregnancy?
Cramps are a sudden, sharp pain, usually in your calf muscles or feet. A cramp is a sign that your muscles are contracting very tightly when they shouldn’t be. They usually happen at night and are more common late in your pregnancy. They can be very uncomfortable and it can be hard to know what to do.
There are many suggested reasons for cramps while you’re pregnant – carrying extra weight, changes to your metabolism, having a vitamin deficiency, being too active or not being active enough. The truth is that nobody really knows.
Can leg cramps be prevented?
Certain exercises might help you to prevent cramps.
Gentle exercises, such as walking or swimming, and specific exercises, including calf raises and walking on the spot, are good for helping blood flow in the legs and might help to prevent cramping.
In fact, regular, moderate exercise during pregnancy is a good idea, because it helps your body get used to the physical changes that happen throughout pregnancy.
You could try specific foot and leg muscle exercises such as:
- bending and stretching your foot vigorously up and down 30 times
- rotating your foot 8 times one way and 8 times the other
- repeating with the other foot
Stretching your calf muscles before you go to bed might help to prevent cramps at night.
A magnesium supplement might also help. Talk to your doctor about whether this could work for you.
How to get rid of cramps
To ease a leg cramp, it usually helps if you stretch the muscle by pulling your toes hard up towards your ankle. You can also rub the muscle firmly or walk around for a while. If you have a partner, ask them to help.
Calcium is sometimes suggested as a treatment for cramps, but there isn't any evidence that this works.
When to talk to your doctor or midwife about your cramps
You should talk to your doctor or midwife about your cramps if:
- they are disturbing your sleep
- they are very painful
- you are feeling anxious about them.
If you're not sure what to do when you get a cramp, or don't know the best way to deal with them, talk to your doctor or midwife.
You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to talk to a maternal child health nurse.
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Last reviewed: February 2020