By: Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN
Along with the many joys of pregnancy come a few discomforts as well, which for many women includes painful leg cramps. Usually beginning during the second trimester of pregnancy, muscle cramps tend to strike during the night and may disrupt sleep. Because pain and lack of sleep are the last things a pregnant woman needs, researchers have found a possible remedy that can be conveniently found right inside your kitchen pantry.
Studies have shown that magnesium, an essential mineral that serves to maintain normal muscle and nerve function, can be successful in easing pregnancy-related leg cramps. Maternal blood levels of magnesium may fall during pregnancy while the body is working to maintain adequate levels for the baby. Therefore pregnant women need 350 mg each day, 40 mg more than when not pregnant. Not only has magnesium been found to reduce leg cramps, but it is an important nutrient which promotes bone health, regular blood pressure, and a healthy immune system. Studies have even shown that magnesium may help control type 2 diabetes, as it plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels.
Magnesium is found in whole grains, legumes (beans and nuts), certain green leafy vegetables and some types of fish. Some of the best sources are pumpkin seeds (152 mg per ounce), sunflower seeds (127 mg in ¼ cup), millet (105 mg in 1 cup cooked), bran cereal (93 mg in ½ cup), and spinach (86 mg in 1 cup cooked). To reduce leg cramps, try including more magnesium-rich foods in your diet along with drinking plenty of fluids and taking a magnesium-containing prenatal vitamin (not all prenatal vitamins contain magnesium). If that doesn’t help, you could speak with your doctor about taking an additional magnesium supplement.
Below are some magnesium-packed meal and snack ideas to boost your daily intake of this important mineral. Along with cramp-fighting potential, these foods will provide B vitamins along with other vitamins and minerals that the body needs in higher amounts during pregnancy.
- Instant oatmeal or wheat bran cereal topped with almonds and cashews
- Whole grain bread topped with peanut butter and sliced banana plus a sprinkle of wheat germ and cinnamon on top
- Plain yogurt with pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds sweetened with honey- add a teaspoon or two of cocoa powder for an added magnesium boost and chocolaty flavor.
- Soybean and tofu salad: combine cubed cucumbers, halved grape tomatoes, diced bell peppers, shelled and thawed endamame beans and minced onion to cubed firm tofu (marinated in dressing of choice)
- Black bean and millet salad: add black beans, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, garlic and lemon juice to a cup of cooked millet
- Halibut with a side of cooked spinach and quinoa
- Chinook salmon with a side of brown rice and Swiss chard
1. National Institute of Health: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
2. American Pregnancy Association: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/magnesium.html
3. American Journal of Obestetrics and Gynocology: Jul;173(1):175-80.The effect of oral magnesium substitution on pregnancy-induced leg cramps. Dahle LO, Berg G, Hammar M, Hurtig M, Larsson L.Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University Hospital, Sweden. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7631676: Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1995 Jul;173(1):175-80.
4. University of Maryland Medical Center: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/magnesium-000313.htm#ixzz2DoVPUf73