Increased blood and fluid volume, changes in hormone levels, increased body weight, and other changes can wreak havoc on the female body during pregnancy. One of the more common symptoms of pregnancy is leg cramps. These painful contractions of leg muscles typically occur in the lower leg or calf muscles, but sometimes involve foot muscles. It is thought that decreased blood flow to the lower extremities during pregnancy may cause a build-up of acids (lactic and pyruvic), which could cause cramping. While pregnant women may not be able to prevent every leg cramp, they can help increase blood flow to legs and keep those acids moving so cramping occurs less often.
Tips for preventing leg cramps during pregnancy
If you are experiencing leg cramps during pregnancy, or you’ve read about leg cramps and you want to learn how to prevent these painful events before they occur – here are a few tips you may find useful.
- Restrict caffeine intake. Moderate caffeine intake is considered safe during pregnancy, but excessive caffeine intake can potentially cause pregnancy complications. Aside from the increased risk of pregnancy complications, caffeine is associated with muscle cramping. If you drink more than three cups of coffee or caffeinated beverages per day, you may be suffering from caffeine cramps. Try skipping a few cups of Joe and substituting with decaf green tea or water.
- Increase water intake. Check urine output to see if you’re drinking enough water. If you’re dehydrated your urine will look dark yellow and may have a strong ammonia smell. Too little water can result in leg cramps.
- Stretch twice a day. As soon as you wake up in the morning, lean on a nearby wall and stretch out your calf muscles. Stretch the muscle to the point where you feel the stretch, but it is not painful. Hold that movement for about 30 seconds; switch legs and repeat. Repeat the stretch at night before bed as many leg cramps occur during sleep.
- Take a walk every day. Walking is great exercise, but it also works muscles of the lower leg to decrease the risk of leg cramps. Talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, even walking, during pregnancy. And, always remember to stretch before and after your walk.
Leg cramps may be a common part of pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean you just have to put up with the pain. Take time to stretch, drink less caffeine and drink more water and you may notice fewer leg cramps.