Leg cramps — painful involuntary muscle contractions that typically affect the calf, foot or both — are common during pregnancy, often striking at night during the second and third trimesters.
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.
While the exact cause of leg cramps during pregnancy isn't clear, you can take steps to prevent them. For example:
If a leg cramp strikes, stretch the calf muscle on the affected side. Walking and then elevating your legs might help keep the leg cramp from returning. A hot shower, warm bath, ice massage or muscle massage also might help.
When can I expect leg cramps to end while I'm pregnant?
Really bad cramps (like a charley horse) can cause pain for a few days, and that's nothing to worry about.
Leg cramps are especially common in the second half of pregnancy, when pregnancy weight gain, increased swelling and overall fatigue are at their high points — and interruptions to your sleep are most frustrating.
Unfortunately for most women, leg cramps last through the third trimester of pregnancy. Taking steps to reduce leg cramps (drinking lots of water, eating a well-balanced diet, stretching) can help keep them at bay.
When to see your doctor about leg cramps
If the pain is severe and persistent (and if you notice swelling, warmth or redness in the area), talk to your practitioner. In very rare cases you could have a blood clot in a vein known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that requires medical attention.