Cramps in Pregnancy
If you are pregnant and have woken up at night, with a strange pain that has woken you up and caused a lot of pain in your feet or legs, chances are you have had a cramp.
Cramping in pregnancy? Yes, foot and leg cramps are very common in pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters.
And although in general terms, they do not affect the development of the baby or the mother-to-be, they are very uncomfortable and annoying.
It is estimated that at least half of pregnant women experience cramps at some point in their pregnancy, and that they are more likely to appear at night, when the body rests.
Once we have experienced our first cramps during the second trimester of gestation, it is very likely that these will become stronger as our pregnancy progresses and the size of our belly increases.
Although they are a painful sensation that usually disappears immediately, cramps in pregnancy are excessively annoying, and even more so when suffered in the last weeks of gestation, the difficulty of movement through the belly prevents the leg from being able to stretch and make them disappear.
However, there are many easy and effective ways, as well as tricks to relieve cramps and prevent their onset, take note!
How do cramps occur in pregnancy?
Pregnancy cramps are a type of involuntary contractions in the muscles, which can cause very intense momentary pain and interfere with the rest of pregnant women. They appear most frequently in the legs, at calf level and usually manifest at night, just at the time when the body rests and remains at rest.
These unexpected contractions occur when a muscle is overloaded or injured and usually occur if you exercise when you are not well hydrated, or because our body has low levels of important minerals such as potassium or calcium.
In the case of pregnant women, cramps appear when many situations come together so that future mothers do not sleep well and accumulate tiredness, something that can favor the appearance of cramps.
Pregnancy cramps affect 50% of women in the second and third trimesters.
What causes pregnancy cramps?
Although it is not known exactly why it is so common for women to experience more leg cramps when they are pregnant, their onset may be related to the various changes that occur in the woman during pregnancy, whether by hormones, reduced mobility and circulation. As with almost all discomforts during pregnancy, hormones also influence the onset of cramps:
- The hormonal changes typical of pregnancy soften the walls of the blood vessels and this in turn impairs the venous and lymphatic return, causing a stagnation or retention of fluids in the legs that cause the uncomfortable cramps.
- Growth of the uterus: Other important factors that can cause uncomfortable pregnancy cramps are weight gain and baby growth, as they can press on some nerves and blood vessels that carry blood from the legs to the heart, and this makes cramps more frequent.
- Swelling in the legs: It is also very possible that the leg muscles are under pressure from carrying all the extra weight that pregnancy implies, or that the cramps are related to swelling due to fluid retention in the legs, a problem known as edema.
- Muscle fatigue: Pregnancy cramps are also thought to be associated with tiredness experienced by pregnant women, as well as temperature changes or staying in one position for a long time.
Pregnancy cramps are so frequent that even a bad gesture or movement can lead to them.
Why do they appear more often at night?
Although cramps usually occur during the day, you’re more likely to notice them during the night because they can immediately wake you up and interrupt your rest.
But why do they arise just when we are resting? The best explanation for why they tend to lie in wait at night is that when lying down the venous return is usually slower and this favors the appearance of muscle contractions, especially in the calves and feet.
How can I relieve cramps in pregnancy?
If while you’re sleeping you wake up with a very strong cramp, the best way for the pain to pass and the muscle to relax is as follows:
- Stretch the leg muscles well: Even if you feel pain, try to straighten your leg (heel first) by bringing your toes towards you, this way you will work the muscle in the opposite direction and little by little it will expand. It may be very painful at first, but it will relax and gradually disappear.
- If you feel the cramp in your foot, stretch your big toe toward your body.
- Heat the area with a hot water bottle: Heat can come in handy at the beginning of a cramp to release contracted muscles and improve circulation. For this you can use a bag or a towel with hot water.
- Massage the muscle: Once the pain has subsided, massage the affected muscle.
- Walk for a few minutes: You can also try to walk a little around your room so that it doesn’t happen again during the night.
- Rest your foot on a cold surface: Another way to calm the cramp is to apply a little cold after placing the hot water bottle. You can do it through a towel or position us so that the cold ground touches the affected muscle. If you have a hard time moving your leg because of the size of your belly, then rest your foot only.
If it’s a severe cramp, stretch your leg by pulling the tip of your foot up and holding it for a few minutes.
When you are in the last weeks of pregnancy, it will probably be harder to get to your foot and pull it towards you, so you will need someone to accompany you and help you.
If you’re alone, you can try placing your heel on the cold floor and your toes on the wall to push forward and stretch the muscle that caused the cramp.
How to prevent pregnancy cramps?
There are some steps you can take to prevent pregnancy cramps. Remember to be very consistent with them. In addition, many of them will also help relieve other symptoms of pregnancy.
Diet and vitamin intake are key to reducing cramps in pregnancy. Eat foods rich in calcium (yogurt, milk, or cheese), as well as those containing vitamin E (wheat germ, nuts, and whole grains).
For your part, you can eat bananas and kiwis because they are high in potassium and leafy green vegetables because they are rich in magnesium. Both minerals will help prevent the annoying cramps in pregnancy.
Exercising regularly will not only help you stay fit and healthy, but will also help keep your muscles from becoming lethargic. You can go for a walk every day or practice recommended pregnancy exercise routines such as yoga, pilates, or swimming for pregnant women that help prevent uncomfortable cramps.
Physical activities such as yoga are perfect for stretching your legs and adopting healthy postures.
Include stretching and rotation of legs and feet in your daily exercise routine. These leg stretching exercises are also known as stretching exercises, and are ideal for improving cramps in pregnancy. So try stretching your legs every day, practicing push-ups and lifts.
You can also try rotating your ankles and moving your toes repeatedly when you’re sitting or lying down resting, watching TV, reading… Try them during the night and you’ll see that your sleep won’t be interrupted!
Massages on the legs
Leg massages just before bed are an effective trick. Make gentle circular movements on your legs and feet before going to bed, you can use creams or essential oils of your choice. The massages will always be effective to relax the muscles after the tiredness of every day.
Gentle leg massage will help relieve tension and relax muscles.
Positions are also important
Try not to be standing too long, or sitting with your legs crossed for too long, ideally activate your circulation so that you do not feel your legs so tired or numb. We recommend that you get up from time to time and take a few small steps inside your home so that you can improve your blood circulation.
Other effective measures against cramps
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
- Take cold showers to activate your circulation and reduce cramps
- Take the vitamin supplements recommended by your gynecologist.
- Try not to wear tight pants that compress your legs.
- Lie on your left side so you can improve circulation to and from your legs.
Should I worry if the cramps are too painful?
If you notice that the cramps are very painful, do not go away with stretching and last longer than an occasional cramp or if you notice that in addition to the pain there is swelling, redness and tenderness, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible, as this may be a more serious problem that needs medical attention.