Lately, I’ve noticed my pregnant Facebook friends complaining of a common pregnancy discomfort: leg cramps. Some call them charley horses, they usually happen in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, and they can wake you from a sound sleep.
So what causes them? Why are they common among pregnant women? It’s thought that they are caused by circulation problems, or simply the increase of blood circulation during pregnancy. They are also believed to be caused by the increase of weight during pregnancy, which explains why they are often worse in the second and third trimesters. Additionally, a decrease in exercise or pressure from the growing baby and uterus on your blood vessels may contribute.
So what can you do? Often, simple exercises, like going for a walk or stretching your calves before bed, can relieve the cramping. Don’t sit in one position for an extended period of time (like at your desk), and if you do, consider swapping your chair out for an exercise ball. Make sure to get up every so often and walk around. And drink plenty of fluids.
Additionally, you may want to increase your magnesium intake. Magnesium has been shown to be effective in relieving muscle cramps, and partners with calcium absorption. It is found in dark leafy greens like kale and in raw almonds, an easy and healthy snack. You can also talk to your care provider about adding a supplement to your prenatal vitamin.
What about when the cramps actually occur? Some tips on relieving the cramps, in the moment include deep breaths, focused relaxation, massage and stretching. Some women find it helpful to get up and walk. Sounds a lot like something else… first stage labor contractions.
I’ve often compared these cramps to the uterine contractions that occur during labor (though my midwife says the leg cramps are worse, and I tens to agree). They both happen involuntarily, and the only way to get through them, to make the pain go away, is to relax, breathe, walk. So, be encouraged. If you wake up with a charley horse, it’s a great time to practice that complete relaxation you learned in your childbirth classes. And in the mean time, snack on a handful of almonds.